What’s the best way to prepare for and learn from mistakes? Even the disasters of the worst kind? Make them happen. That is what scientists are doing with one of the most nightmarish failures of modern life – the nuclear reactor meltdown. Like one of the biggest in history that happened four years ago today at Fukushima.

The Argonne National Laboratory have contrived a way to create an nuclear meltdown in a controlled laboratory environment as described in this article, “First look at nuclear fuel in a meltdown”…

  • “Scientists have managed to take their first close-up look at what happens to nuclear fuel when it becomes molten, as it would in a nuclear reactor meltdown. In an innovative lab experiment, they discovered that uranium dioxide fuel behaves differently when molten than in its solid state…Uranium dioxide melts at over 3000°C, far too hot for most furnace container materials which would melt and react with the test samples…The melting of the uranium dioxide fuel represent the first stage of any nuclear meltdown…In a real nuclear reactor core meltdown, such as occurred at both the Chernobyl and Fukushima Dai’ichi plants, the molten uranium dioxide melts and reacts with the zirconium metal cladding on the fuel rods, and with the surrounding steel and concrete structure, forming a lava which scientists have called corium.”

The researches want to witness first-hand what actually happens in such an event. Standard operating procedure for such tragedies is to escape as quickly as possible. So there is not a lot of opportunity to hang around and check out what’s going on. Unless, you make such a failure happen on your own terms.

As it happens, our son Chase landed in Japan today. He is chronicling his 300+ mile walk from Tokyo to Kyoto along the ancient “Tōkaidō” (East Sea Road) connecting them with field recordings at each of the 53 stations along the route. He will be sharing his work on his own blog, “Dōchūki”.