I'm amazed at how slowly the press seems to put the pieces together on events like those unfolding in northern Japan. Reports have detailed how serious failures in the #2 reactor at the Daiichi plant have raised fears of a full scale meltdown. Here's what they aren't saying:
- If there is a meltdown in the #2 reactor, the site must be abandoned by humans for a very long time. Think Chernobyl.
- If the site is abandoned, there will be no way to maintain the cooling systems that are keeping reactors 1, 3, and 4 from melting down.
- The #3 reactor has a special configuration (appearing only at the very end of the NYTimes update this afternoon): that the fuel used there is reprocessed and contains plutonium--something that makes a meltdown much, much more dangerous.
So, basically, if the world is not successful at keeping Daiichi #2 from melting down, we will have a far worse problem on our hands. Let's all hope that TEPCO and those assisting can avert this disaster.
Update: there's a very straightforward explanation of these problems over at allthingsnuclear.org
More Update: it's increasingly apparent that the spent fuel, located in pools outside of the primary steel containment structure, could pose an still greater threat and may already be on fire.