s skippy the bush kangaroo: Basic Reminders of Nuclear Power

skippy the bush kangaroo

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Basic Reminders of Nuclear Power

  1. The most difficult thing about making a true nuclear bomb is keeping the explosion going. Power plants are not designed to do that, so there will not be a million Dark Suns over Fukushima.

  2. But there weren't dark suns at Chernobyl, either. A damaged reactor—like a large battleship—cannot change course immediately. Translation: you have to cool it down before you shut it down.
    1. Easiest way to do that is to put water in it. In fact, the problem gets worse if you don't: the reactor core can melt on itself.

  3. Water cooling turns to stream. Some of that steam is likely DiDeuterium Monoxide. (D2O). That is, it's radioactive steam.
    1. The good news is, the steam isn't very radioactive. Higher than the normal atmosphere, but not likely to be fatal if that's the only thing that happens. (Assumes you don't breathe it in directly, and are in good health and adult. Otherwise, collateral effects may occur. This is why evacuation is safest.)

      If the plant is run well, steam leaking will elevated the level of radiation (has to), but not cause serious injury or illness just because it is dispersed into the atmosphere.

  4. If the water cools the reactor enough, you can shut it down. If something goes wrong, the reactor's core starts to melt. (Essentially, the graphite rods are no longer able to stabilize the core so they become part of it.)
    1. Repairing a core is not something to be done with live people. Think Spock near the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Or the area around Chernobyl.

  5. The core can remain contained and become slag. This is the best case scenario if something is seriously wrong.

  6. If you get radioactive steam, the odds are good your reactor is slag too.
    1. Your best case is if the steam comes out and the core remains contained. You'll never be able to use the core again, but you won't irradiate the entire area too badly.

  7. If anything other than steam comes out, you have a major problem.

The above checklist may be useful. If we're all very fortunate, number seven will be irrelevant.

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posted by Ken Houghton at 6:51 PM |


Still think Mothra is gonna come out.
commented by Blogger David Aquarius, 10:52 PM PST  
How do you know all of this? I thought you were an economist...
commented by Blogger Jim Yeager, 1:48 PM PDT  
Deuterium is not radioactive. Unfortunately, this is not an informative post. For better information about the situation, try this:

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commented by Anonymous Write Essay, 12:26 AM PDT  
Jim - That's from high school physics lo those many years ago (which is why, as Comrade PhysioProf noted, I conflated "deuterium" with hydrogen particles carrying radioactivity [biproduct of cooling]).

The most difficult thing about making an atomic bomb is keeping the explosion going-- explosive force goes outward, while you want to keep the core exploding. (This is why a "dirty bomb" isn't so much of a threat as a nuclear warhead--which makes little difference to the victims, but some to the survivors.) So even if everything goes wrong with a reactor, you end up with less dispersion of radioactive material than an otherwise-engineered bomb. (Feature, not a bug.)

The other part--containment is for containment--follows from accepting that an explosion that scatters radioactive isotopes is what you're trying to avoid. Which is why you end up with a thermos-like design as a starting point.

Fukushima 1 (and now 3) had the exterior of the thermos blow. Best bet is because hydrogen is relatively unstable (see periodic table) and was a byproduct of the cooling effort.

But--at least from current reports--the interior (containment) is still intact. So long as that remains so, it's not a catastrophe (think Chernobyl)--again, higher casualties than the null are no comfort to the victims and their social circle, but not a complete disaster.

Exposing the core directly to the atmosphere--which appears to be what everyone has been working to avoid (with all that implies)--would make the leakage and treatments so far appear insignificant.

All of which follows from, as it were, following the flow charts.

Follow rumproast or skepchick for the details; I was just setting forth the "the worst case is not Nagasaki" case.
commented by Blogger Ken Houghton, 11:45 AM PDT  

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