May 12, 2011 Issue

Physics To Go 112 - Radioactivity/fuel rods

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Physics in Your World

Fiestaware image
image credit: © 2011 Theodore Gray (used with permission); image; larger image


The distinctive color of orange-red Fiestaware, which was popular in the 1930s and 1940s, is produced by uranium oxide in the glaze. For more information, see Fiestaware, and for a list of similar items, see Radioactive Consumer Products (the two websites referenced here are from Oak Ridge Associated Universities).

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Physics at Home

Calculate Your Radiation Dose

Visit Calculate Your Radiation Dose to calculate your annual radiation dose, and see this EPA page on health effects to learn about normal doses of radiation. To find out more about natural sources of radiation, visit Sources of Radiation Natural Background Sources by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (and don't miss the two links at the bottom). Also, food, especially the banana, is slightly radioactive, as described in this short Discover Magazine piece.


From Physics Research

Mechanics of a Meltdown Explained image
image credit: NRC file photo; image source; larger image

Mechanics of a Meltdown Explained

The long red tubes are zirconium-alloy-clad fuel rods being fastened together into large bundles that will form the core of a nuclear reactor. Inside the zirconium cylinders are stacked pellets of uranium oxide, the reactor fuel.

To find out what happens to the zirconium cladding and the fuel rods in a "nuclear meltdown", visit Mechanics of a Meltdown Explained. The article explains the problems faced by the Fukushima power plant after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan.

Worth a Look

MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering Education Hub

For information and background on the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima power plant, check out MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering Education Hub. It offers news reports, nuclear science background, and special features such as A Chernobyl Primer.

For related art, see this New Yorker cover by Christopher Niemann.

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