What is the risk from nuclear plants?

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I've studied the FAQ on this subject but I'm still unclear about the danger from nuke plants-- American ones; I don't care about Chernobyl. I live 45 miles from one and the wind is very "prevailing" from that direction.

The Three Mile Island accident was greatly mitigated by the presence of a containment structure. Someone I talked to thought this kind of structure could be ruptured by a "conventional" explosion involving gases if something fails in the plant. Then a meltdown would be much more dangerous for the surrounding area. I'd like to know the likelihood of such a preliminary explosion and this person's scenario.

And what are the effects of a meltdown if the containment is intact? Does the superhot material go into the earth and affect the groundwater? (This is one thing I've heard.)

If the plant fails when there's no outside power, could the situation be brought under control within, say, 30 days (probably the longest we could expect from generators)? Or is there still a disaster when the 30 days are up?

Would appreciate clear, practical answers. Thanks for any good info...

Chris Brewster

-- Christopher Brewster (brewsterc@excite.com), December 15, 1999


The containment vessel is intended to contain (hence the name), any pressure explosion of the primary system. It will not blow out and cover you with radiation. You have little to worry about from a U.S. reactor. You will receive dire predictions from anti-nukes who have never seen a reactor up close and personal but ignore them. Also a meltdown of the Chernobyl type would take all the operators working in concert to purposefully bypass every safety function and it still wouldn't be as bad. These operators can be kind of flakey but are not as a rule collectively psychotic. The plant could be cooled down well within 30 days and brought to a "cold iron" condition meaning no extra cooling is needed. I have helped bring a reactor from critical to cold iron to critical so there is experience to back this up.

Also remember that the U.S. uses a slightly less efficient type of reactor that is hundreds of times more safe than any Soviet design. Worry about the bio/chem threat from terrorists.

-- Squid (ItsDark@down.here), December 15, 1999.

[ How many Chris Brewsters could there be? If this is the one, say hi to Kym, and sheesh it took ya a while to start posting! ;-]

-- hi there (north@by.east), December 15, 1999.

I think the prime exposure is failure of EXTERNAL power (AND backup power) after a shut down. Shutdowns are not that unusual. My neighborhood reactor shut down three times this year, unscheduled. But if they lose their cooling power source, I follow the evacuation signs.

-- W (me@home.now), December 15, 1999.


Thank you for a really uplifting post. My situation is somewhat similar to Christopher's (except I'm more or less upwind from the facility near me), and I've worried about this for a long time.

-- eve (123@4567.com), December 15, 1999.

Ignalina (Lithuania) is just the other side of the Baltic Sea from my home (in Denmark). Ignalina is generally agreed to be in a VERY DANGEROUS state. I try not to think about this.

-- Risteard Mac Thomais (uachtaran@ireland.com), December 15, 1999.


Best of luck to you and yours. There are three concepts to keep in mind with radiation. Your exposure is related to Time Distance and Shielding. The time thing is related to the radioactive decay. Somewhat fortunately?? the most dangerous isotopes tend to decay faster. So if you personally limit your exposure outside the better, Distance is obvious for Ukraine being in the US is a good thing being in Bulgaria is not so good. Shielding is any material but the largest source radiation will be the plant site meaning this is not as big of a concern (no nead to lead sheet your house). Your best bet would be to have supplies to seal your house (Got Duct Tape?) and jsut stay indoors as much as possible. Also if there is an accident stay away from exposed local produce. Cans that weren't stored in a food warehouse next to the reactor core can be washed outside (probably a good idea anyway) and the food inside is sealed from contamination.

-- Squid (ItsDark@down.here), December 15, 1999.

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