As radiation levels fluctuate at the Daiichi reactors in Fukushima, there is increasing concern about the amount of radiation workers at the plant are being exposed to and how much radiation is leaking into the surrounding area.
Amidst the drama of the worst seismic catastrophe in Japan’s recorded history, the Japanese government and its nuclear industry have been struggling to prevent a power reactor core melt accident similar to that which occurred at Three Mile Island in the United States three decades ago.
While it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Japanese to contain the smaller amounts of radiation escaping from the nuclear energy plants damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, a catastrophic release of radiation remains extremely unlikely.
The fire in the spent fuel pool in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the explosion inside another reactor have opened more pathways for radiation to be released, prompting the nuclear industry to reconsider whether their designs for reactors are sufficient to withstand significant natural disasters.
The damage done to Japan’s nuclear reactors by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami should prompt the nuclear industry to reevaluate the magnitude of natural disasters that the reactors should be designed to survive.
While public concerns about the safety of nuclear energy have resurfaced in the wake of the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the case for nuclear power remains strong.
In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japan is scrambling to avert further problems at damaged nuclear plants.
Given that the Japanese have one of the most advanced nuclear power programs in the world, there is bound to be a serious reevaluation of whether nuclear power programs around the world are capable of dealing with massive geological events like the earthquake that hit Japan.
While substantial core melting in the Japanese nuclear reactors damaged by the earthquake and following tsunami may create the risk of a large release of radiation into the environment, it is also possible that any amounts of radiation released would be relatively small.
Between the challenge of cooling the fuel rods at damaged Japanese nuclear energy plants and a potential breach in the containment vessel that surrounds the overheating nuclear core, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep radiation from being released into the environment.