A March 12 explosion at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan, appears to have caused a reactor meltdown.
The key piece of technology in a nuclear reactor is the control rods. Nuclear fuel generates neutrons; controlling the flow and production rate of these neutrons is what generates heat, and from the heat, electricity. Control rods absorb neutrons — the rods slide in and out of the fuel mass to regulate neutron emission, and with it, heat and electricity generation.
Interestingly, a meltdown does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster (emphasis added):
A meltdown occurs when the control rods fail to contain the neutron emission and the heat levels inside the reactor thus rise to a point that the fuel itself melts, generally temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing uncontrolled radiation-generating reactions and making approaching the reactor incredibly hazardous. A meltdown does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster. As long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the core breaches but the containment facility built around the core remains intact, the melted fuel can still be dealt with — typically entombed within specialized concrete — but the cost and difficulty of such containment increases exponentially.
Japanese authorities have ordered an evacuation of a 12-mile radius area of the reactors.
The BBC has a map of the affected areas, including the reactors’ locations,
Seismology in this decade is already emerging as the most important new department of socioeconomics and politics. The simple recognition that nature is master and that the crust of our planet is highly volatile has been thrown into some relief by the staggering 250,000 butcher’s bill exacted from the people of Haiti by a single terrestrial spasm, and by the relative survival capacity of Chileans even when hit by a quake of superior magnitude. Gone are the boring-headlined stories about the magnitude of the quake and the likely epicenter. The effects of upheavals of the earth can now be quite expertly studied, and even predicted, along a series of intersecting graphs that measure them against demography, income level, and—this is a prediction on my part—the vitality of democratic institutions.
And then there’s Iran,
This general point was specified in a dramatic way by a sentence buried in the middle of the Times article. “In Tehran, Iran’s capital, Dr. Bilham has calculated that one million people could die in a predicted quake similar in intensity to the one in Haiti.” (Italics added.) Tehran is built in “a nest of surrounding geologic faults,” and geologists there have long besought the government to consider moving the unprotected and crumbling capital, or at least some of its people, in anticipation of the inevitable disaster.
But the Iranian regime, as we know, has other priorities entirely, and it has worked very hard to insulate not its people from earthquakes, but itself from its people. I remember sitting in one of Tehran’s epic traffic snarls a few years ago and thinking, “What if a big one was to hit now?” This horrible thought was succeeded by two even more disturbing ones: What if the giant shudder came at night, when citizens were packed tightly into unregulated and code-free apartment buildings? And what would happen to the secret nuclear facilities, both under the ground and above it? I know what the mullahs would say—that the will of Allah was immutable. But what would the survivors think when they looked around the (possibly irradiated) ruins and saw how disposable their leaders had considered them to be?
This outcome would be incomparably worse than the consequences of any intervention to arrest the Iranian nuclear program.
Go read the rest to find out what Hitchens proposes.
There will be no podcast today
A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, shaking the capital of Santiago for 90 seconds and sending tsunami warnings from Chile to Ecuador.
It struck at 3:34 a.m. local time and was centered about 200 miles southwest of Santiago, at a depth of 22 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The epicenter was some 70 miles from Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, where more than 200,000 people live.
Phone lines were down in Concepcion as of 7:30 a.m. and no reports were coming out of that area. The quake in Chile was 1,000 times more powerful than the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that caused widespread damage in Haiti on Jan 12, killing at least 230,000, earthquake experts reported on CNN International.
Any of my friends with contacts in Chile reading this post, please ask my cousin Ana to contact me via internet or phone when possible. I’m leaving my Skype and Gmail chat open all day.
Three minutes after I posted this request on Facebook and the blog, I’m happy to report that I just heard from my cousin. She’s well.