The Radiation Education & What You Should Know About the Reactors
Unless you have been living under a rock avoiding reality this past month, you know about the catastrophic set of events going on in Japan. The earthquake and susequent tsunami heard around the world, which have destroyed thousands of lives, have caused all sorts of questions and concerns regarding the nuclear reactors and the radiation they generates.
First, let’s consider what a nuclear reactor is: a giant, glowing red-hot, radioactive coal. Nuclear reactors, just like fossil-fuel-burning power plants, make electricity by heating up water so it turns into steam and drives a turbine, which powers a generator. To use another analogy, the nuclear fission which creates this heat is a bit like the chaos you’d get if you toppled a giant pyramid of canned tomatoes. First, one can would fall, and then it would bounce off several more cans, knocking those over, and then they’d all bounce downhill, creating an ever-expanding chain reaction. And each time a can hit another can, it would produce a spark of heat.
In Japan, this chain reaction stopped at the time of the earthquake, when the reactors shut down as a safety response. But nuclear fission produces such enormous amounts of heat that it takes a long time for the reactor core to cool. Plus, the fissile material keeps giving off what’s called “decay heat” as it continues to emit radiation.
So what is this radiation?
Radiation is all around us; it is energy present (in low concentrations)in the air, earth, space and soil. In large concentrations, ionizing radiation has the ability to create so much damage to the human body that it may cause cancer or even death at certain levels, such as with the nuclear disaster that occurred at Chernobyl. However, it is important to know that while radiation does exist and can cause harm, it takes an incredible amount of exposure in order to cause major bodily harm.Continued on the next page