January 10, 2014
An interesting story popped up from Agence France-Presse today, suggesting that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency was planning to conduct an experiment sometime in the next twelve months whereby they would create a “controlled [nuclear] reactor meltdown” in an effort to learn how to deal with similar situations in the future.
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency does not spend a lot of time updating their website, it would seem, as the latest press release listed is for July of 2013. However, The Yomiuri Shimbun — a Japanese newspaper — has provided further information to corroborate the story.
“We’d like to find out what phenomena occurred in the accident and use the data to work out responses in the event of another nuclear power plant accident,” an official from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has been quoted as saying.
“We want to study exactly how meltdowns happen and apply what we will learn to help improve ways to deal with severe accidents in the future,” the AFP quote a spokesman for the agency as saying.
The experiment is to take place at the Nuclear Safety Research Reactor in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. According to The Yomiuri Shimbun, aka, The Japan News, “a 1.2-meter-long stainless steel capsule containing a 30-centimeter-long fuel rod will be placed at the core of the reactor in such a way that the coolant water does not come into contact with the rod. Neutrons emitted by fuel surrounding the capsule will facilitate nuclear fission in the small fuel rod, which will begin melting after its temperature reaches 2,000 C.”
While the fuel rod will quickly return to a solid state within minutes of the experiment, it will still allow the scientists and engineers the opportunity to gather valuable data, including the pressure and temperature of the reactor, as well as video of the rod melting. With this information, the Agency hope to create precise computer models of what happened at the Fukushima reactors in 2011.
“Results of the experiment will help us better predict the effectiveness of measures to deal with a nuclear accident, such as an emergency injection of water into a reactor,” the agency official said, adding that “there are no safety problems with the experiment itself.”