By no means out of the woods. As of now…
In reactor No. 2, which is now the most damaged of the three at the Daiichi plant, at least parts of the fuel rods have been exposed for several hours, which also suggests that some of the fuel has begun to melt. If more of the fuel melts before water can be injected in the vessel, the fuel pellets could burn through the bottom of the containment vessel and radioactive material could pour out that way — often referred to as a full meltdown.
New York Times
This further update from The New Scientist (links below)
Japan and our Nuclear Future
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Japan is the first truly modern society to encounter a disaster of nearly biblical scale. In spite of the huge challenges is doing very well…a truly remarkable combination of preparation, sophistication and poise.
The Nuclear incident in Japan poses grave policy risks for the USA.
Where to go for reliable additional information –
The fault movement
Japan – The Nuclear Perspective
A 9.0 earthquake (it has been upgraded from 8.9) exceeds any natural disaster affecting a modern urban population in the last three generations. An event that triggers a vertical jump in the North American plate that in turn generates a tsunami that wrecks a major nation is a once in a century event – and more accurately it is a one-off event because in 1911 there was no nation state comparable to Japan.
The peaceful use of nuclear power that began in the USA in the 1950’s has gone through several stages, much as the auto industry from the Model-A Ford to the Toyota Prius. Atomic reactor power plants have a useful life measured in decades but they all have a “pull off the shelf” date. The failing Japanese reactors were close to retirement and are running on obsolete technology.
Generation 3 nuclear plants (which have passive shutdown capabilities) were first installed in Japan in 1993. They would probably not have been catastrophically disrupted by the latest event. Unsurprisingly, the 1970’s model water-cooled nuclear reactors are faring worse than their successors, because their safe operation requires and active, electrically powered cooling process.
Japan has 54 working nuclear power reactors, and six of them were adversely affected by the earthquake.
As this writing, I’m willing to predict that no full core meltdown will take place, but that further steam venting will be necessary for many days before these reactors can be stabilized. [But see today’s development in reactor # 2.] The act of flooding a water-cooled reactor with sea water (in these cases doped with boric acid – boron slows the nuclear reaction*) amounts to reactor euthanasia.
Nuclear phobia has been reignited. This is a tragedy because modern nuclear generation technology is far safer and more environmentally friendly than the BP to refinery flow path. …And far more practical than reliance on windmills and solar panels. This fact was realized years ago by Greenpeace co-founder, Dr. Patrick Moore, now a supporter of nuclear energy. See http://www.wired.com/science/planetearth/news/2007/11/moore_qa.
Our elites have done us a grave disservice by failing to bring public opinion and knowledge in line with the realities of energy production technology. The most dangerous thing we face as a country is energy policy paralysis and catastrophic ignorance.
“Nuclear Reactor maintains continuous nuclear reaction in safe, and is equipped in
many nuke plants as well as in air craft carriers and submarines.
Boron is an atomic element numbered 5 with chemical symbol B, one of group 13
elements. The 10B isotope of Boron possesses a very large neutron absorption cross
section and is used to control nuclear reaction, and its compound Boric acid is
dissolved in primary coolant to control excessive reaction in pressurized water reactor.”
The author, Jay B Gaskill, a California attorney, spent his formative years surrounded by nuclear scientists and engineers (mostly by their children) in Idaho during the birth years of atomic reactor technology and retains many of those contacts. His science fiction novel, “The Stranded Ones”, deals with the consequences of the international collapse of all legal protections for intellectual property. When aliens arrive carrying a treasure trove of technological innovations, things get very interesting. Available for purchase as an e-book, only, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, among other vendors: