Massive Earthquake & Tsunami Rocks Japan

NEW YORK TIMES:  The Japanese government declared an “atomic power emergency” and evacuated thousands of residents living close to a nuclear plant in northern Japan after a major earthquake. Japan relies heavily on nuclear power, and it generates just over a third of the country’s total electricity. The facilities are designed to withstand earthquakes, which are common in Japan, but experts have long expressed concerns about safety standards at the plants, particularly about the impact a major quake could have if it hit close to a reactor. At least two other Japanese nuclear plants also reported trouble, but there was no radiation leak at either of them, government officials said. A number of nuclear reactors around the hardest-hit area of the country were shut down, and Japanese news media said a fifth of the country’s total nuclear generating capacity was offline because of the quake. One major concern is that while operators can quickly shut down a nuclear reactor in an earthquake or another emergency, they cannot allow the cooling systems to stop working. Even after the plant’s chain reaction is stopped, its fuel rods still produce heat. This is because they are filled with radioactive materials that are still throwing off subatomic particles or gamma radiation, which generates heat. Heat from the nuclear fuel rods must be removed by water in a cooling system, but that requires power to run the pumps and to align the valves in the pipes. So the plant requires a continuous supply of electricity even after the reactor stops generating its own power. MORE

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