This article from NPR summarizes a 2011 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that concluded America's nuclear reactors need new safeguards. The study was conducted immediately after the tsunami-triggered failure of nuclear reactors in Japan. The commission chairman stated, "U.S. plants need to be better prepared for what doomed the Japanese plants -- the sudden and continuous loss of electric power for cooling pumps and equipment."
Users may read the story in its entirety or listen to it as a 4-minute Podcast.
chain reaction, meltdown, nuclear control rods, nuclear fuel, nuclear meltdown, nuclear power, nuclear reactor, nuclear safety, power plant
Metadata instance created
July 24, 2011
by Caroline Hall
July 24, 2011
by Caroline Hall
Last Update when Cataloged:
July 19, 2011
AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)
3. The Nature of Technology
3B. Design and Systems
9-12: 3B/H1. In designing a device or process, thought should be given to how it will be manufactured, operated, maintained, replaced, and disposed of and who will sell, operate, and take care of it. The costs associated with these functions may introduce yet more constraints on the design.
9-12: 3B/H4. Risk analysis is used to minimize the likelihood of unwanted side effects of a new technology. The public perception of risk may depend, however, on psychological factors as well as scientific ones.
9-12: 3B/H5. The more parts and connections a system has, the more ways it can go wrong. Complex systems usually have components to detect, back up, bypass, or compensate for minor failures.
3C. Issues in Technology
6-8: 3C/M5. New technologies increase some risks and decrease others. Some of the same technologies that have improved the length and quality of life for many people have also brought new risks.
6-8: 3C/M6. Rarely are technology issues simple and one-sided. Relevant facts alone, even when known and available, usually do not settle matters. That is because contending groups may have different values and priorities. They may stand to gain or lose in different degrees, or may make very different predictions about what the future consequences of the proposed action will be.
9-12: 3C/H5. Human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence.
4. The Physical Setting
4D. The Structure of Matter
9-12: 4D/H4. The nucleus of radioactive isotopes is unstable and spontaneously decays, emitting particles and/or wavelike radiation. It cannot be predicted exactly when, if ever, an unstable nucleus will decay, but a large group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate. This predictability of decay rate allows radioactivity to be used for estimating the age of materials that contain radioactive substances.
4E. Energy Transformations
9-12: 4E/H6. Energy is released whenever the nuclei of very heavy atoms, such as uranium or plutonium, split into middleweight ones, or when very light nuclei, such as those of hydrogen and helium, combine into heavier ones. For a given quantity of a substance, the energy released in a nuclear reaction is very much greater than the energy given off in a chemical reaction.
4G. Forces of Nature
9-12: 4G/H6. The nuclear forces that hold the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom together are much stronger than the electric forces between the protons and electrons of the atom. That is why much greater amounts of energy are released from nuclear reactions than from chemical reactions.
National Public Radio. NPR: U.S. Must Make Nuclear Plants Safer. Washington: National Public Radio, July 19, 2011. http://www.npr.org/2011/07/19/138513212/commission-u-s-must-redefine-nuclear-plant-safety (accessed 3 May 2016).
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%0 Electronic Source %D July 19, 2011 %T NPR: U.S. Must Make Nuclear Plants Safer %I National Public Radio %V 2016 %N 3 May 2016 %8 July 19, 2011 %9 text/html %U http://www.npr.org/2011/07/19/138513212/commission-u-s-must-redefine-nuclear-plant-safety
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This interactive resource from the New York Times animates the water cooling process in a boiling-water reactor like Japan's Fukushima plant, which was severely damaged by the 2011 tsunami. It shows graphically what happens if water suddenly drains from the storage pools that store radioactive fuel rods.