AMHERST, Mass. (Mass Appeal) - The earthquake and tsunami has affected many nuclear power plants in Japan, and Herbert J. Bernstein, professor of physics at Hampshire College via phone to talk about this issue.
What is the current issue we are looking at with the nuclear plants in Japan. Is a full scale meltdown a real possibility?
I would say that we do not know exactly where this incident will end up. It is unforeseen and unprecedented.
I mean, what we are working on now, what they are essentially working on now, cooling the reactors as best they can. All of the water, spent from the pool. Some of the water, at least, oiled off from the core of the reactors. They think that something like four of them out of the six.
What happens during a nuclear meltdown? How bad is that?
The full scale meltdown has the fuel broken out of plaiding that makes it fuel rods. They are more like thin tubes than rods actually. Getting so hot in the bottom of the reactor, that they start to damage the very thick steel and leak out into the environment that way. We already have some indication that products from the fuel have gotten into the environment.
How will that affect the people of Japan and the environment that radiation being out there?
Well, the forms of radiation that have gotten out, already are getting into the food chain and extremely dangerous. Two of the most important radioactive products in fission reaction, 137 and iodine 131 and the Japanese government has wisely reacted to prevent leafy vegetables and milk from a wide region around the damaged reactors from getting into the food supply. They are blocking selling that food at all.
What happens if everything over there goes horribly wrong and how will that affect us in Massachusetts?
It is possible for the worst possible thing to have a major fraction of the radioactive contents of several reactors leak into the environment. Possibly even through explosions. That would put very dangerous radioactive material into the air. Then you don't know where it will be. I would emphasize it is unknown what will happen, even in the worse case. It is currently okay. It is potentially dangerous everywhere. Especially to the people of Japan.
What about for the people who are out there, cooling the nuclear cords and exposed to the radiation, how much more radiation were they exposed to say the average person?
The workers are the ones that are most heavily exposed and they try to measure and keep it down. When working on something unstable, something can happen. Then you get a huge dose that can be quite damaging.
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