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So Boing-Boing just posted a map of earthquake vulnerability for nuclear plants...
The situation in Japan is making a lot of people worried about nuclear plants and earthquakes.

The thing is...the massive, unexpectedly large, 9.0 magnitude earthquake wasn't a problem for the Japanese nuclear plants. Every single nuclear plant in Japan reacted appropriately to the earthquake. The reactors currently in trouble immediately went into shutdown when the earthquake hit, and were undamaged by it. Everything was fine. The situation showed that 40-year-old nuclear reactor designs can stand up to earthquakes 30 times more powerful than the largest earthquake considered possible when designed.

What would be more appropriate than a map of earthquake threats would be a map of tsunami threats. That's what killed the reactors in Japan. It takes several hours to days for a reactor to go from "control rods inserted for shutdown" to "no longer producing excessive heat", and the reactor needs to be kept actively cooled during this time frame. The cooling pumps run off of the electric grid, or failing that, diesel generators, or failing that, massive 8-hr batteries. In this case, the earthquake took out the electric grid, and the tsunami took out the generators. They were unable to replace the generators within the 8 hours the batteries lasted, and things went downhill from there.

But the earthquake alone? Not a problem.

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all those reactors operated the way they were designed to. at the first sign of an earthquake, they SCRAMmed, in a carefully planned and controlled way. despite the fact that they hadn't been designed to withstand an earthquake of the one that hit, they still didn't fail. the controlled shutdown process was well under way... when the tsunami hit, and destroyed all the cooling systems.

the most recent news i heard wasn't good. while the reports are somewhat conflicting, it seems likely that at least one of the spent-fuel pools has boiled dry. if this is so, the cladding will catch fire, and the resulting radioactive smoke will be quite dangerous. the spent-fuel pools are not inside the reactor containment vessels - which, by the way, are still doing their job, despite hydrogen explosions, severe overpressures, and possibly partial core melts. i don't know what they can do for those pools, except perhaps try to refill them with borated seawater or something. but there are undoubtedly workers in the plants who aren't going to survive, and i'm sure they know it...

This. Yes.

Still don't want to go throgh an earthquake though.....

If there ever was a place to go through a 9.0 earthquake, Japan would be it.

It's probably really hard to tease out, but I wonder how much damage there was in Japan overall from the earthquake, as opposed to the tsunami.

Agreed. All this bru-haha about "OMG radiation threats!" is bullshit journalism that distracts from the real issues.

Where are the real stories about the number of people who are bereft, the courageous efforts to clean up and rebuild, the few but spectacular survival stories, and the fact that so many people are homeless, without enough food or water, wondering if their lives ones are alive, while disease conditions flourish, and oh yeah, there's FUCKING SNOW...?


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