|Quoting Mir (Reply 36):|
This is a failure of risk management, not a failure of the principle of nuclear power. All that would have to be done to prevent this sort of thing is to earthquake-proof the plants. And while that's a costly endeavor, it's not an inherently complicated one.
The plants WERE earthquake-proof. They survived the earthquake fine. The backup systems worked fine.
However, how do you design a nuclear power plant that can survive a tsunami and still have those diesel generators working normally? They need air to run. Submerge them and they stop. Submerge them in saltwater and they stop for good. You can't prepare for that sort of thing.
Here we have a well-built nuclear reactor with not two but EIGHT backup systems and yet the nature of this "perfect storm" means that now authorities are saying that we may be facing a core meltdown.
If the temperature inside the core reaches 4,000°F, the uranium rods will start to melt into a flowing, radioactive slag. This intense temperature and pressure cannot be contained even by the reactor vessel and the radioactive lava will leak into the containment building. The containment building can't really handle temperatures like that, either (I can't think of any material made of protons, neutrons, and electrons that can) and so the radioactive fuel, which, like Chernobyl, was near the end of its fueling cycle, would be released into the environment.
The radius might not be as bad as Chernobyl if they can ensure that there isn't a huge explosion, but if that happens then there will be a large chunk of Northern Japan that will be unusable for tens of thousands of years.