Q:

What happens in a nuclear meltdown?

A:

Quick Answer

According to the Scientific American, during a nuclear meltdown, core material overheats, either due to a runaway reaction or loss of coolant. The extreme temperatures can cause damage to the reactor, partially melt the nuclear fuel and contaminate any remaining coolant with radioactive material. In addition, some reactor designs use pressure vessels, and a meltdown can increase pressure enough to cause an explosion or release radioactivity from the containment vessel.

Know More
What happens in a nuclear meltdown?
Credit: Björn Meyer E+ Getty Images

Full Answer

The Scientific American explains that one of the major dangers of a nuclear meltdown is the possibility of a runaway reaction. Under normal circumstances, the core material is kept in contact with neutron-absorbing control rods in order to slow down or stop the reaction, as necessary. A meltdown can damage the control mechanism, preventing these rods from engaging, or it can melt enough nuclear fuel together to create a self-sustaining reaction. In these cases, the fuel can continue to produce heat and dangerous radioactivity long after the initial accident ends.

Wikipedia notes that the most infamous nuclear meltdown occurred on April 26, 1986, when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic failure. A coolant failure led the core to build up heat to dangerous levels, creating a steam explosion that blew off the roof of the reactor. The explosion spread radioactive material over a large area, contaminating the surrounding city and countryside for decades.


Is this answer helpful?

Similar Questions

  • Q:

    What does nuclear energy do?

    A:

    Nuclear energy provides power, heat and electricity by splitting atoms in a process called nuclear fission. The heat produced by fission creates steam that powers the turbines, thus generating electricity. Nuclear energy serves as a dependable source of power because it is not susceptible to inclement weather and climate conditions.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    Who discovered nuclear fission?

    A:

    Nuclear fission was discovered in 1938 by two German scientists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann. In 1939, it was explained theoretically by Lise Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    How do nuclear reactors work?

    A:

    Nuclear plants use a process called fission to generate enough energy to boil large amounts of water and turn it into steam. The steam then spins turbines that generate electricity, which utility companies distribute to homes and businesses. Fission involves splitting a uranium atom within the nuclear reactor.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    What is nuclear binding energy?

    A:

    Nuclear binding energy is the amount of energy that is needed to split a nucleus into many different parts. The split parts are composed of neutrons and protons, and collectively, all the parts are known as nucleons.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:

Explore