Environmental Hazards, Science

Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear power plant
Nuclear power plants are extremely dangerous when unstable.
Image: Shutterstock

Are you somebody who overreacts to everything?  If so, you may be called a “nuclear reactor.”  However, if you lived in Japan, there might be a real reason to react.

Japan is a country which has really prided itself on its nuclear program.  The government often used to tout how much power their plants produced and how safe they were.  That was until the 2011 giant earthquake and tsunami reduced Fukushima to rubble.

It’s not often, outside of a cartoon, that you can really say something was reduced to rubble.  In this case, that is really what happened.  Where there used to be houses, there were rocks.  Where a school used to stand, there was four feet of water and seaweed.  That alone is bad enough!

Yet, Japan had so much more bad news to follow.  I’m referring, of course, to the meltdown of some of Japan’s nuclear reactors.  The government, following its regular pattern, refused to accept responsibility for the event.  Further, they denied how severe the problem actually became.

The main plant to come under fire was the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  The government really tried to cover up the damage.  In fact, the New York Times printed an article entitled “Japan Nuclear Plant May Be Worse Off Than Thought” in March of 2012.

While the government said the three reactors damaged in the quake were stable, many wondered if that “cold shutdown” was just another trick.  Many sources indicated the reactors were not as stable as the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) stated.

When the quake struck, the region pumped in seawater to try to cool the reactors off.  People worried, though, that the water used to cool them off could easily seep into the ground or the runoff return to the ocean in a toxic soup.  Just last week, workers confirmed it.  They recorded a dramatic increase in levels of cesium and other radioactive substances in groundwater just 80 feet from the sea.

“The plant is still in a precarious state,” said Kazuhiko Kudo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University in southwestern Japan. “Unfortunately, all we can do is to keep pumping water inside the reactors,” he said, “and hope we don’t have another big earthquake.”

Only last week, steam was reported to be rising from the damaged building housing reactor number three.  Video images showed the vapor hovering just above the primary containment vessel.  It was still visible two hours later.

Radiation levels were reported to be normal, according to the operator of the plant.


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