Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!
Quake + tsunami = 1 minor radiation dose so far
But proper nuclear reactors are designed so that you can't get water breakup to hydrogen and oxygen inside the containment vessel, only outside it: triumph number four for the Japanese plants' designers. Thus the hydrogen explosions which subsequently took place, though visually spectacular, did nothing more than blow the roofs off the reactor buildings – the containment vessels and their systems remain unbreached and under command from the relevant control rooms. The risk of explosion was known and notified in advance: it was accepted by the plant operators and regulators in return for the very slight reduction in radiation exposure close to the reactor buildings.
All reactors' temperature is now under control and the residual heat reactions inside them continue to die away; soon, no further cooling will be required. The three worst affected will cost more to put right than the other ones, having been cooled with the backup-backup seawater system and lost their roofs, but the process of sorting them out will not be a lot more onerous than a normal periodic refuelling. All the other affected reactors have achieved quite normal shutdowns, though nuclear safety being nuclear safety it will be some time before they can be fired up again.
Radiation health effects have been pretty much zero. At times there have been heightened radiation levels inside the plants from short-life isotopes in the steam releases – sometimes enough that an unprotected person next to a reactor building might have sustained a year's normal dose from background radiation in an hour. This is not particularly terrifying, really – nobody is scared at the prospect of living another year on planet Earth – but it is being reported under scaremongering headlines. Another thing the weekend reporters have missed was the fact that all but tiny traces of the airborne radionuclides (from the salt in the seawater coolant) were disappearing before they could even cross the street; there is essentially no health hazard to people living nearby. Precautionary evacuations and tests were just that: precautionary.
In fact only one person so far has sustained any measurable extra radiation dose above normal: a plant worker, according to the IAEA, sustained about 10 per cent of a normal year's background radiation dose. Other workers have been injured by the hydrogen explosions and the quake/tsunami, and one killed in a crane accident, but quite frankly being a nuclear powerplant worker at Fukushima has been pretty safe compared to just being an ordinary citizen in quake-hit Japan.
So to sum up: all plants are now well on their way to a cold shutdown. At no time have their operators come even close to running out of options. No core has melted down and come up against the final defensive barriers: the safety systems did not come even close to failing, despite being tested far beyond what they had been designed to take. One person has sustained a small dose of radiation which need cause him no concern.
The whole sequence of events is a ringing endorsement for nuclear power safety. If this – basically nothing – is what happens when decades-old systems are pushed five times and then some beyond their design limits, new plants much safer yet would be able to resist an asteroid strike without problems.
But you wouldn't know that from looking at the mainstream media. Ignorant fools are suggesting on every hand that Japan's problems actually mean fresh obstacles in the way of new nuclear plants here in the UK, Europe and the US.
That can only be true if an unbelievable level of public ignorance of the real facts, born of truly dreadful news reporting over the weekend, is allowed to persist.
Spread the word. And if you doubt us on any of this, please read this excellent early description of the events, or follow the reports from the IAEA and World Nuclear News. Very few other channels of information are much use at the moment. ®
1There is an enduring popular myth suggesting that such a core would become so hot that nothing could resist it: being heavy, it would thus melt its way through the foundations of the reactor, through the planetary crust and notionally to the other side of the planet – the so-called "China syndrome". The idea that the core could burn through the base of its containment is about as credible as the idea that it would remain together in the planet's molten interior and then – having somehow done so and thus reached the centre of the Earth – then ascend back to the surface again at the antipodes.
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