Nuclear Reactors ≠ Nuclear Bombs

This is what I like to refer to as uninformed lunacy. It disturbs me that ANY educational system could spawn someone that believes this would work. It also disturbs me how horribly little people know about nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors are not nuclear bombs, the only way a reactor can explode is the same way your water heater might explode, the pressure gets too high and the lid blows off, that’s what happened in Chernobyl, and that’s the worst possible outcome of any disaster involving a nuclear reactor, that’s it. Now, that pressure explosion is a terrible thing and will almost certainly kill anyone in the facility, but you’re not looking at a mushroom cloud situation that destroys the area for several miles around. Instead, they act more like a dirty bomb, wherein the actual explosion is relatively minimal, but the release of highly radioactive fission-products into the environment causes intense radiation sickness and death in the area immediately around the bomb for hundreds of years (until they decay into a stable state) and terrifies the populace due to the fear of radiation and nuclear power. It’s nasty, yeah, but a nuclear bomb it is not.

I’d also like to point out that the tsunami that swept away entire towns didn’t come close to destroying that reactor; they’re built to withstand natural disasters, they’re built to withstand 747s crashing into them, they’re strong buildings and exceptionally well-designed. And the amount of radiation that escaped when the rods were uncovered within the reactor vessel (which just means the water level went below the height of the rods, not that they were out in the open or anything)? ~110 millirem/hr the first time they were exposed, ~313 millirem/hr the second time. To put that in perspective, you can get that in about 8 cross-country flights or 6 chest x-rays or two weeks on the beach in Mexico or just simply living anywhere on the planet for 8 months (cosmic radiation and radon gas will cause about 500 millirem/yr). It’s not a significant amount. Having worked on nuclear reactors for 5 years of my life, and more importantly lived on this planet for 28 years, I’ve been exposed to a lot more than 300 millirem, it’s not a problem.

Phil Plait, over at Bad Astronomy, posted a most excellent article on this issue.


Posted on 03/15/2011, in Geekiness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Andrew Elsen

    This is a fight that you will never win. The public will never understand nuclear power because to have a true hold of the topic you need to listen for more than 10 min. As a result people will freak out when they hear the words nuclear, critical or even reactor. This is a problem that Unitied States and most other governments who have any sort of nuclear program bring on themsevles due to the secrecy that is associated with military programs and the problem with Iran’s aspriations for nuclear energy. But, one thing you need to remember is that any sort of problem when it comes to nuclear power shouldn’t be under estimated. Radioactive material that is released in large amounts into the enviroment is like a ketchup stain on a nice white shirt, it never comes out ( or at least not untill the elements have decayed to a stable state).

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