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.
In the wake of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what kind of damage has been done to several of the country’s nuclear energy plants and what the potential outcome of that damage will be.
Although the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan will likely launch a debate about safety, there are stark differences between Japan and the United States in the environmental scenarios that must be considered when designing U.S. nuclear reactors.
While passive safety features ensured that Japan's Fukushima reactors automatically shut off after the earthquake struck, the core remains hot even after the nuclear chain reaction ceases. If the core cannot be cooled, there could be potentially dangerous repercussions.
If nuclear plants damaged in Japan's recent earthquake cannot be cooled and their cores begin to melt, it could potentially cause one of the most serious nuclear accidents in history.
Japanese engineers are attempting to find ways to cool the nuclear reactor core at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi reactors, in order to prevent a nuclear meltdown.
Although Japan's nuclear reactors in Fukushima have shut down, the fuel rods remain hot. If the coolant system does not function properly, the fuel rods could overheat, posing a real danger.
Although Japan's Fukushima reactors have been shut down, their fuel rods still need to cool down, so that the remaining water meant to cool the core does not boil and expose the radioactive rods.