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(Boing Boing)   A brief primer on how nuclear plants work and whether the leaky facilities in Japan are completely Fukushima'd   (boingboing.net) divider line
    More: Interesting, plants, primer, chain reaction, generating electricity, radionuclide, nuclear powers, three mile island, coal-fired power plants  
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10320 clicks; posted to Main » and Fandom » on 13 Mar 2011 at 7:57 AM (11 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



80 Comments     (+0 »)


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2011-03-12 9:47:16 PM  
This is a very good explanation. I think that many media outlets are being purposefully obtuse, after all a headline of "Control rods in place shut down hampered by water pumping issue" is less likely to draw viewers or reader than Explosion at Jap Nuke Plant, Godzilla seen!!!111.

Thank goodness we flew in the coolant.
 
2011-03-12 9:53:06 PM  
Excellent explanation. Thanks, subby.
 
2011-03-12 10:01:32 PM  
skepchick's father blames the "tusami." I'm sticking with the guy with the beard on Al Jazeera.
 
2011-03-12 10:23:49 PM  
Dammit, now I need a primer on Jenga.
 
2011-03-12 10:41:49 PM  
Nice bigoted headline.
 
2011-03-12 11:01:54 PM  

Sun God: Nice bigoted headline.


...seriously?
 
2011-03-12 11:02:25 PM  
What's the over/under we will see Corium Lava (new window)?
 
2011-03-12 11:03:02 PM  
Well I blew that. Corium Lava (new window)
 
2011-03-12 11:12:41 PM  

yogaFLAME: Sun God: Nice bigoted headline.

...seriously?


Phuket you.
 
2011-03-12 11:15:40 PM  
Great link, used it to help some people I know understand what is going on.
 
2011-03-13 12:01:10 AM  
I hear weed works better than Potassium Iodide.

At least that's what my dealer tells me.
 
2011-03-13 12:16:33 AM  
That's a pretty good simple explanation right there.
 
2011-03-13 12:24:31 AM  
I'm sorry, you lost me when you mispronounced it "new-clear."
 
2011-03-13 12:41:36 AM  
That was a good explanation, but my question is this. What effect, if any, does the type of fuel used at Fukushima have on the potential for this to become a more dangerous situation?

The Fukushima fuel is MOX. All the scenarios I've read have described a typical uranium nuclear facility.

What can we expect, given the differences? Anything? More time for it to cool down?
 
2011-03-13 12:43:55 AM  
Wait, I've found a better explanation.

We're the TSA sweetie, we're here to help.
boingboing.netView Full Size

/radioactive image
 
2011-03-13 12:50:42 AM  
That's not what I read in a Fark thread, so it must be wrong
 
2011-03-13 1:01:10 AM  

cretinbob: That's not what I read in a Fark thread, so it must be wrong


I heard there was a significant threat of a nuclear mutant attack, as depicted on this handy TSA chart:

[image from images56.fotki.com too old to be available]
 
2011-03-13 1:12:57 AM  
I've got just one more thing to say and then I'm going to bed.

This is a sad sad occasion, I wish those still alive in the effected areas all the best wishes, luck, and good will that we can hand them.

This tragedy we get to watch over the internet or tv, or ham radio, or where ever we make the connection, WE'RE spectators. Let's hope we all stay safe here at home.

I'll drink to that.

In case there is a similar emergency here don't we need to be taking notes?

#1 Media lies
#2 media lies some more
#3 Are we still listening for entertainment?
#4 My guitar sounds like dolphins.
 
2011-03-13 1:21:39 AM  

LoadShark: #1 Media lies
#2 media lies some more
#3 Are we still listening for entertainment?


Channeling Howard Beale...

LoadShark: #4 My guitar sounds like dolphins.


Channeling Ralph Wiggum?
 
2011-03-13 3:19:27 AM  

Dinjiin: I heard there was a significant threat of a nuclear mutant attack, as depicted on this handy TSA chart


I lol'd


//love me some Japanese monster movies
 
2011-03-13 5:36:32 AM  
As a physicist I've gotta say, that was great article. Thanks for sharing!
 
2011-03-13 6:19:11 AM  

bobbette: That was a good explanation, but my question is this. What effect, if any, does the type of fuel used at Fukushima have on the potential for this to become a more dangerous situation?

The Fukushima fuel is MOX. All the scenarios I've read have described a typical uranium nuclear facility.

What can we expect, given the differences? Anything? More time for it to cool down?


From what I've seen/read it essentially means a bit longer time for secondary reactions to decompose thus a longer cool down period. Shouldn't be too hugely significant a difference best I can tell.

/not a physicist or nuclear expert.
 
2011-03-13 8:01:08 AM  
This oughtta be a lovely thread.
 
2011-03-13 8:14:01 AM  
As a radworker, huzzah for BoingBoing.
 
2011-03-13 8:44:57 AM  

DistendedPendulusFrenulum: What's the over/under we will see Corium Lava (new window)?


I'd say unit #1's already done it. Unit #3's got a good chance if they can't raise water levels in the reactor vessel.

They've written off 2 units so far.

I wouldn't want to be an exec at TEPCO's nuke division right now...
 
2011-03-13 8:56:55 AM  

Ringshadow: As a radworker, huzzah for BoingBoing.


Your job looks AWESOME.

i53.tinypic.comView Full Size


Seriously, though, cool article.
 
2011-03-13 9:00:56 AM  
I don't need science to tell me that nucular energy will kill us all and we should stick to burning dead animals and plants.
 
2011-03-13 9:20:52 AM  

bobbette: The Fukushima fuel is MOX. All the scenarios I've read have described a typical uranium nuclear facility.


The media is trying to make a big deal about plutonium being in the fuel, but thanks to the miracle of nuclear alchemy, about 40% of your fissioning at the end of a core cycle is coming from plutonium, even if there wasn't any in the fuel rods at the start.

/Nuclear engineer
 
2011-03-13 9:42:49 AM  

LoadShark: #1 Media lies
#2 media lies some more


I think you're confusing ignorance with willful misrepresentation.

Whenever I've dealt with the media, it's been clear that they simply don't have a clue. They major in writing and communicating, not engineering, aviation, medicine, or any one those subjects that long explanation beyond snappy soundbites.
 
2011-03-13 9:42:58 AM  

bobbette: That was a good explanation, but my question is this. What effect, if any, does the type of fuel used at Fukushima have on the potential for this to become a more dangerous situation?

The Fukushima fuel is MOX. All the scenarios I've read have described a typical uranium nuclear facility.

What can we expect, given the differences? Anything? More time for it to cool down?


You should expect no difference between a typical uranium facility and a MOX-fueled plant.

Every plant that is fueled with U-238 and U-235 is burning MOX soon after criticality. That's because U-238 captures a neutron to become U-239. This goes through two disintegrations to become Pu-239, which is an excellent fuel. The only difference is that countries OTHER than the United States will take spent fuel and reclaim the usable U-238 and Pu-239 to make new fuel. We're too ignorant and afraid to do this in the U.S.

The article was a good dumbed-down explanation. Some points were wrong, but much closer to the truth the the ZOMG! found in the media.

/In nuclear power for over half my life now.
 
2011-03-13 9:43:06 AM  
ecx.images-amazon.comView Full Size


/hot like fission
 
2011-03-13 9:55:51 AM  
It's unfortunate that the technology is so inefficient and old. Of course, these plants are 40 years old, but many are based on technology dating back 30- 40 years before that. We really dropped the ball in term of nuclear research because of irrational fears, and now we are paying the price.
 
2011-03-13 10:32:53 AM  
Thanks subby and boing. As clear an explanation I have seen and far better than anything the mainstream american media have cranked out. I have a hunch they don't want to admit the Japanese are using the american system.
 
2011-03-13 10:46:47 AM  

edmo: LoadShark: #1 Media lies
#2 media lies some more

I think you're confusing ignorance with willful misrepresentation.

Whenever I've dealt with the media, it's been clear that they simply don't have a clue. They major in writing and communicating, not engineering, aviation, medicine, or any one those subjects that long explanation beyond snappy soundbites.


Not long after 9/11, someone wondered what would happen if you crashed a jetliner into a nuclear power plant. The Associated Press moved over a story with one full quote from the resulting report, and a partial quote, that there would be "some sprawling." The gist of the story was that there was no real danger.

I was working at a little paper then, saw the story had just moved, realized the problem, called the AP and told 'em "some sprawling" must be "some spalling," made the comparison with the BB and the window pane we've all seen, told 'em what happens if pieces of stuff start flying around in a core, etc.

AP fixed the story by changing "sprawling" to "spalling." Everything else, including the no-worries-here tone, remained intact.
 
2011-03-13 10:54:31 AM  

Animatronik: It's unfortunate that the technology is so inefficient and old. Of course, these plants are 40 years old, but many are based on technology dating back 30- 40 years before that. We really dropped the ball in term of nuclear research because of irrational fears, and now we are paying the price.


But this is why we shouldn't built more nuclear power plants. We shouldn't build much much safer modern plants because 40 year old plants might be harmed in a farking 8.9 earthquake. How safe can they be if they can't retroactively protect old technology in an extreme freak occurrence.
 
2011-03-13 11:07:09 AM  
Great article, but I've officially given up on trying to explain to scared-as-fark-for-no-reason idiots that live around me that no, the reactor issue in Japan isn't going to give them and their whole family cancer here on the east coast of the US.

Honestly, WTF? One of them was going on about how the entire US grain supply was going to be contaminated with radiation for decades. Whu....?

I can't even talk to them about it anymore because I'm afraid I might strangle one of them.

/surrounded by idiots.
 
2011-03-13 11:14:26 AM  

Je5tEr: Great article, but I've officially given up on trying to explain to scared-as-fark-for-no-reason idiots that live around me that no, the reactor issue in Japan isn't going to give them and their whole family cancer here on the east coast of the US.


Ask them if any of the 2000 nuclear "tests" (EXPLOSIONS) since WWII have affected them?
 
2011-03-13 11:15:50 AM  

Je5tEr: Great article, but I've officially given up on trying to explain to scared-as-fark-for-no-reason idiots that live around me that no, the reactor issue in Japan isn't going to give them and their whole family cancer here on the east coast of the US.

Honestly, WTF? One of them was going on about how the entire US grain supply was going to be contaminated with radiation for decades. Whu....?

I can't even talk to them about it anymore because I'm afraid I might strangle one of them.

/surrounded by idiots.


Yeah some of them are going to enjoy a smoke with their charred thickburger after the trip to a tanning salon, but they want to focus on a cancer risk so small you couldnt even put a numver on it.
 
2011-03-13 11:28:43 AM  
"Proximity is also what makes the difference between a nuclear bomb"

No no no no no

Bullshiat and I wish they would stop scaring people with Nuclear Bomb talk .

Nuclear power plant fuel is not enriched enough to go boom, ever!

It can not sustain a fast chain reaction even if you pilled all the fuel together.

Imagine a crowd made up of Mike Tysons( enriched ) and Nerds( non-enriched ) .

In a bomb you have enough Mike Tysons that if you punch one he shouts "Who punched me" and punches the next guy also a Mike Tyson and this goes on quickly, the Nerds panic seeing all the punching and punch too, and you get a fast chain reaction of punchers and BOOM a riot.

In Reactor fuel ( if piled it together to make a bomb ) you only have 5 to 10 Mike Tysons in a crowd of. So If you punch a Mike Tyson he can only punch a nerd who would give a weak punch to the next guy , who just rubs his arm and says "Ow" and moves away ( Thermal expansion ) .

Oh and airline hitting nuclear power plant would do noting really .

The slab on the floor covering the reactor is about a foot thick , then there is the Outer Containment Dome which is between 4 and 6 feet thick all of special hardened concrete , then the Case of the inner containment is high strength stainless steel that is about 8 inches thick .
 
2011-03-13 11:33:24 AM  
As good as the article is, the issue still remains; radioactive gas escapes, locals get sick. It still sucks for the Japanese.
 
2011-03-13 11:35:04 AM  
It pains me a great deal that no one I know knows how a nuclear power plant works, or ever a coal power plant for that matter.

We learned this crap in 5th grade people, I can still picture the page from our science book. Hell, we learned the concept behind fusion in 5th grade, I remember seeing a picture of that experimental fusion power thing in Japan. (its shaped like a donut)

/Grad student in the sciences
//if my peers don't know how a steam turbine works, I feel sad for the general populace.
 
2011-03-13 11:44:32 AM  

Namahs: It pains me a great deal that no one I know knows how a nuclear power plant works, or ever a coal power plant for that matter.

We learned this crap in 5th grade people, I can still picture the page from our science book. Hell, we learned the concept behind fusion in 5th grade, I remember seeing a picture of that experimental fusion power thing in Japan. (its shaped like a donut)

/Grad student in the sciences
//if my peers don't know how a steam turbine works, I feel sad for the general populace.


I highly doubt you learned enough details about nuclear plants in 5th grade that it would allow you to explain why a nuclear plant hit by a quake and a giant wave wouldn't explode. I could be wrong, but I believe I busy learning about the basics of life science at that level.
 
2011-03-13 11:48:54 AM  
That's because nuclear power plants come in layers, like an onion.

I thought Trolls were like onions.
 
2011-03-13 11:52:54 AM  
Has anyone made the comment that this will end the modern nuclear renaissance much the same way Three Mile Island ended the original nuclear buildout?

Or the economic impact of losing and decommissioning at least 1200 MW of baseload nuclear generation?
 
2011-03-13 12:00:14 PM  

JasonOfOrillia: That's because nuclear power plants come in layers, like an onion.

I thought Trolls were like onions.


You are thinking ogres.

/not like a cake
//cakes lie
 
2011-03-13 12:00:25 PM  
There's one small clarification I'd like to add to the article:

Proximity is also what makes the difference between a nuclear bomb, and the controlled fission reaction in a power plant. In the bomb, the reactions happen-and the energy is released-very quickly. In the power plant, that process is slowed down by control rods.

This bit implies that the control rods are the only things which prevent a nuclear reactor from exploding like a nuclear bomb, but that is not the case. In a bomb, the chain-reaction needs to happen nearly instantaneously, and that requires a fundamentally different design. Even with no control rods, a full load of fuel, and no working coolant system, the worst a nuclear reactor can do is get so hot that the core and fuel rods melt, which can in turn either melt/burn a hole in the surrounding building or cause a more conventional explosion due to steam pressure. That's still catastrophic, because it releases massive amounts of radioactive material, but it's a far cry from an actual nuclear bomb.

Also, these days there are reactor designs which make even those meltdowns physically impossible; in one that I'm familiar with, the reactor core is designed so that if it ever gets too hot, the thermal expansion of the reactor core itself essentially opens up gaps which allow neutrons to escape, which in essence makes the fission chain-reaction fizzle out because there won't be enough neutrons hitting unspent fuel to sustain it.

/I'm not a nuclear engineer, but I am an electrical engineer who did some formal study of the early development of nuclear bombs and reactors; to the actual nuclear engineers in this thread, please correct me if I got anything wrong.
 
2011-03-13 12:00:46 PM  
In 1985 I liked to show off in 8th grade science by redrawing encyclopedia illustrations in MacPaint.
i723.photobucket.comView Full Size
 
2011-03-13 12:07:54 PM  

Nem Wan: In 1985 I liked to show off in 8th grade science by redrawing encyclopedia illustrations in MacPaint.


Ahhh! So I see where the Fark Moderators come from!

/What about the Admins?
 
2011-03-13 12:11:05 PM  

mekkab: Nem Wan: In 1985 I liked to show off in 8th grade science by redrawing encyclopedia illustrations in MacPaint.

Ahhh! So I see where the Fark Moderators come from!

/What about the Admins?


They are moderators that take lead and mercury supplements...
 
2011-03-13 12:29:36 PM  
FTA: Now that you understand what's going on inside a nuclear reactor...

I love this. This sentence is a few paragraphs into the article. The article did give a pretty good primer on the working of nuclear reactors, but that sentence struck me as funny.

Well, shiat that's simple, why are they having problems again?

It's kind of like a teacher giving a lesson:
Teacher: Johnny has 2 apples and Jenny has two apples. If they put them all into a bowl there will be four apples in the bowl. Now that you understand math, tell me how many apples it would take to fill Lake Victoria.
 
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