Forget the hysteria in the media about a “core meltdown.” Too many people have seen The China Syndrome. Thanks to a shared link posted to Facebook by Jim Wreyford I discovered a web site with what appears to contain knowledgeable, well-reasoned information about the nuclear power process in general, and about Fukushima in particular. An article was originally written by Dr. Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT (but apparently not a nuclear scientist). His original piece began this way:
I repeat, there was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity from the damaged Japanese reactors.
By “significant” I mean a level of radiation of more than what you would receive on – say – a long distance flight, or drinking a glass of beer that comes from certain areas with high levels of natural background radiation.
I have been reading every news release on the incident since the earthquake. There has not been one single report that was accurate and free of errors (and part of that problem is also a weakness in the Japanese crisis communication). By “not free of errors” I do not refer to tendentious anti-nuclear journalism – that is quite normal these days. By “not free of errors” I mean blatant errors regarding physics and natural law, as well as gross misinterpretation of facts, due to an obvious lack of fundamental and basic understanding of the way nuclear reactors are build and operated. I have read a 3 page report on CNN where every single paragraph contained an error.
His article achieved quite a bit of notoriety and has now been modified and migrated to a site at MIT where his article now begins this explanation:
We will have to cover some fundamentals, before we get into what is going on.
Construction of the Fukushima nuclear power plants
The plants at Fukushima are Boiling Water Reactors (BWR for short). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water, and spinning a a turbine with that steam. The nuclear fuel heats water, the water boils and creates steam, the steam then drives turbines that create the electricity, and the steam is then cooled and condensed back to water, and the water returns to be heated by the nuclear fuel. The reactor operates at about 285 °C.
His article has a tremendous amount of detail about the redundant safety systems built into nuclear reactor construction. But more importantly, for in-depth explanations of the reactors and the events — being posted frequently with engineering details and analysis, there is now a blog at MIT described thusly:
Information about the incident at the Fukushima Nuclear Plants in Japan hosted by http://web.mit.edu/nse/ :: Maintained by the students of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. Click here to go to that site. Caution: very technical.
I have to put a lot of faith in the MIT explanation. Read and learn.