This Flash interactive gives an animated view of a boiling-water reactor, such as the design of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan (severely damaged in the 2011 tsunami). It explains the process of a water-cooled system and depicts what happens if the cooling system fails when water levels drop unexpectedly. If enough water boils off (which occurred at Fukushima) the fuel rods can become exposed, allowing radiation to escape into the atmosphere. The only "solution" may be to pour cold water into the storage pools, which in turn, causes additional hazards.
Editor's Note: This article could be used effectively in an instructional unit on nuclear reactions, radioactivity, and societal implications of technology. Since the Fukushima disaster, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has made formal recommendations for changes to power plants in America, many of which have the same boiling-water design as the Japanese plant. See related materials for a link to additional resources on this topic.
Metadata instance created
July 24, 2011
by Caroline Hall
July 24, 2011
by Caroline Hall
Last Update when Cataloged:
March 18, 2011
AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)
3. The Nature of Technology
3B. Design and Systems
6-8: 3B/M4a. Systems fail because they have faulty or poorly matched parts, are used in ways that exceed what was intended by the design, or were poorly designed to begin with.
6-8: 3B/M4b. The most common ways to prevent failure are pretesting of parts and procedures, overdesign, and redundancy.
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/M2. Technology cannot always provide successful solutions to problems or fulfill all human needs.
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.
6-8: 3C/M7. Societies influence what aspects of technology are developed and how these are used. People control technology (as well as science) and are responsible for its effects.
6-8: 3C/M9. In all technologies, there are always trade-offs to be made.
9-12: 3C/H3. In deciding on proposals to introduce new technologies or curtail existing ones, some key questions arise concerning possible alternatives, who benefits and who suffers, financial and social costs, possible risks, resources used (human, material, or energy), and waste disposal.
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.
New York Times: Hazards of Storing Spent Fuel. (2011, March 18). Retrieved March 3, 2015, from New York Times Company: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/world/asia/the-explosion-at-the-japanese-reactor.html?ref=asia
New York Times Company. New York Times: Hazards of Storing Spent Fuel. New York: New York Times Company, March 18, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/world/asia/the-explosion-at-the-japanese-reactor.html?ref=asia (accessed 3 March 2015).
New York Times: Hazards of Storing Spent Fuel. New York: New York Times Company, 2011. 18 Mar. 2011. 3 Mar. 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/world/asia/the-explosion-at-the-japanese-reactor.html?ref=asia>.
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%0 Electronic Source %D March 18, 2011 %T New York Times: Hazards of Storing Spent Fuel %I New York Times Company %V 2015 %N 3 March 2015 %8 March 18, 2011 %9 application/flash %U http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/world/asia/the-explosion-at-the-japanese-reactor.html?ref=asia
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This article from National Public Radio summarizes a 2011 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear reactor disaster. Conclusions: "U.S. plants need to be better prepared for what doomed the Japanese plants...."