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Nuclear knowledge still lacking

In the wake of the disaster in Japan it has become evident that many people lack sufficient knowledge about nuclear power. For instance when people hear the word “meltdown” on the news they picture a disaster of Chernobyl proportions instead of what is actually happened at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

The disaster was misconstrued by the public’s complete lack of knowledge about nuclear energy.

First let’s start with the basics. Nuclear power is created by splitting the nucleus of a fissionable atom in a process called nuclear fission. The element most commonly used in fission is uranium-235. Splitting the uranium atom causes large amounts of energy to be released as heat. This heat turns water into steam, which then turns a turbine and creates energy.

When the double disaster rocked Japan on March 11 all three of the reactor’s safety precautions were interrupted including the zirconium rods used to halt the fission, and two methods of cooling failed. One method, which was controlled by a generator, was knocked out during the tsunami and the second diesel fuel-powered generator failed.

The uranium was in danger of not being able to be cooled down. The extra heat created could have possibly caused the fuel source to become molten liquid and this is the danger of a possible meltdown that was broadcast in the news.

The situation was far different from what many people think of when they hear about a nuclear disaster. The accident was not of the same magnitude of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania where nuclear core actually melted down.

Yes, there was a fire and explosion at the Fukushima reactor; however, it was not like any previous nuclear disaster in history. To put it simply, there was no mushroom cloud and as far as anyone knows, nobody died as a direct result of the accident.

Yukiya Amano, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency was quoted saying that the nuclear crisis will be effectively overcome.

The Obama administration has assured the United States that the country is not imminent danger from the disaster. And according to Ron Ballinger, an MIT professor of nuclear energy and engineering, there is no threat of nuclear fallout which nuclear dust and other particles that “fall out” of the sky after a large nuclear explosion.

So before people jump to conclusions about what happened in Japan, they should first take some time to learn about how nuclear energy works.

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