As for Fukushima, when the earthquake hit, power transmission towers collapsed, isolating the plant from off-site power. All the operating reactors shut down automatically. Pumps and other safety systems kept running. Just they're supposed to.
Then an hour later, the tsunami rolled in. Ugh.
One guy on staff cheered, but his name was Roland Emmerich.
As it turns out, the protective sea wall wasn't built high enough, and the generators and associated systems were flooded with salt water. This was bad. The batteries, as designed, provided power to the safety systems for another few hours, but damage kept aid from reaching the plants, and the batteries eventually ran out. Then the water in the reactors and fuel pools boiled off, which allowed the fuel to heat up to its melting point. This also produced massive amounts of hydrogen, which caused the explosions we saw on the news -- those weren't nuclear explosions, just regular boring chemical ones.
The result of Fukushima is, like Three Mile Island, a financial disaster. A six-unit site, capable of producing tremendous amounts of clean energy, is now offline forever. The surrounding area was evacuated as a precaution. Food production is limited in the area as a precaution. Water with radioactive elements is being captured and cleaned as a precaution. But no one died from radiation. No one was vaporized in a runaway nuclear chain reaction. There are no dead fish, birds, or animals. The workers that day, known as the Fukushima 50, aren't even significantly more prone to cancer (PTSD is the bigger threat for them).
I'm not going to claim catastrophe can never strike someday. But the public's fears about nuclear power are the reason plants couldn't get built without layers and layers of fail-safes (again. with the exception of the old Soviet Union, which couldn't engineer a pair of shoes that wouldn't catch fire every now and then). You can debate among yourselves how much of a role nuclear should have in our green energy future. But at this stage, "The plants could blow up and spew radiation at any time!" shouldn't be one of the points against it.
Ryan Menezes is an editor and interviewer here at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter for stuff cut from articles and other things no one should see.
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