What is a nuclear disaster?

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What is a nuclear disaster?

Post  Admin on Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:44 pm

A nuclear disaster could take several forms. The most obvious would be a meltdown at a nuclear reactor plant. Though the plant could not explode, the results of such a disaster would very likely be the release of massive amounts of radiation and radioactive material into the environment. And it would take hundreds of years to decay to anything near "safe" levels. Cleaning it up is out of the question, as exemplified by the Chernobyl disaster. In the Ukraine event, the reactor actually caught fire and burned. Prypiat is a ghost town. In the case of Three Mile Island, the meltdown was contained within the reactor vessel and the containment building, but there were some large releases of steam that was heavily laced with the radioactive debris of spent fuel fission fragments. These radioactive materials, which would normally be contained inside fuel elements, were released into the primary coolant when a loss-of-coolant accident overcame the plant.
There is a move underway to transport spent nuclear fuel to the spent fuel storage facility in the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada. This will be done by rail, and rail cars are vulnerable to accident. Though the rail cars that carry spent fuel will be specially engineered for the task, they are not indestructable. They can survive the mechanical damage from a "head on crash" from a vehicle (a locomotive is run into the cars to test the design), if an accident results in a conflagration of sorts due to, say, nearby petroleum cars catching fire, then that casket in which the spent fuel is cooking will fail. That could easily result in the airborne distribution of a large quantity of highly radioactive material over a wide area. Like in a nuclear power plant disaster, cleanup would not be possible.
It is possible that some kind of terrorist attack could result in the release of a large quantity of highly radioactive material, but that is unlikely. Certainly power plant spent fuel is vulnerable to assault, but the "effectiveness" of such a venture is probably not "high enough" to warrant the investment of the resources it would take to make it happen. It is extremely difficult to hoist a bunch of spent fuel out of holding tanks and drag it out into the open and blow it up or incinerate it completely enough to disperse large amounts of the radioactive materials. (Certainly the "local mess" requires that all efforts be made to secure nuclear plant sites and provide for rapid response teams to any facility.)
Accidents involving nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in labs usually don't result in the release of large quantities of highly radioactive materials, though some deaths occur as a result of these events. Criticality accidents in laboratory situations have killeded people on several occasions. But so has overdosing (with radiation) in a number of medical cases where patients were given incorrect doses of radiation during physician supervised medical treatments.

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