The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

3.2.3 Inside the Daiichi power plant

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JIM AL-KHALILI
We can't get inside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but in May this year, an international group of scientists went inside to investigate what went wrong. There's now a well-established story of what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on March 11. First the earthquake hit, followed by the tsunami, wiping out the vital power supply needed to cool the reactors once they shut down. And they did shut down.
This is the moment the tsunami struck the power station. As the 14 metre wave hit, it overwhelmed the sea wall and swamped the diesel pumps. The resulting loss of power shut off cooling to the reactors. This was crucial, because even though the reactors were shut down, they were still generating heat.
Heat remained within the reactors, and they slowly started to cook. And this led ultimately to the buildup of pressure and explosions. Not nuclear explosions, but gas explosions. Accompanied by them was the release of radioactive particles out into the atmosphere. There was a release of steam and radioactive material, including isotopes of cesium and iodine.
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This video shows the inspection of the Daiichi plant in May 2011, two months after the initial crisis.

The damage done to the plant by the explosions is apparent as is the continuing presence of seawater.

The inspectors are an international group of scientists. They are there to work out what happened and why; to fully understand the physics so that appropriate precautions can be taken within the nuclear industry.

During the first few weeks, many were frustrated at the piecemeal nature of the information coming out of Daiichi so this visit was also an opportunity to increase transparency of information.

Initially, the main battle was with the reactors themselves. As time went on the overriding issue became the continuing effort to limit the radioactive contamination of the area and to try to contain the Daiichi site.

In the next section, find out about the exclusion zone set up around Fukushima.

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