In the October 17, 1991 Season 3 Episode 5 of Fox Television’s adult cartoon The Simpsons, the protagonist Homer Simpson is defined: he is a nuclear power plant operator who saves his plant from a nuclear meltdown without knowing how he did it. So, I used his name as my nom de plume for this article because knowing how to do it, the Fukushima nuclear power plant could not be saved from the unfolding accident, more than a week after the 9 magnitude earthquake off the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011.
The Japanese are generally well prepared for earthquakes. And any resulting tsunamis. But they were not well engineered for the nuclear accident. The light, boiling water nuclear reactors at Fukushima I were all designed by General Electric in collaboration with Japanese corporations. The reactors were automatically shut down upon the earthquake. But not quite. Because shut down is simply not the shut down of the chain reaction in the reactor core, but total and complete shut down until all the decay heat is dissipated for which earth quakes do not wait.
The Fukushima reactors were not designed to sink the heat sooner than a week after the core shutdown, provided the regular water coolant mechanisms work. When they do not, as was the case at Fukushima I because of the failure of emergency coolant pumps due to flooding from the ensuing tsunami, it gets even worse. It will take longer than a week and there is yet no button Homer Simpson can push or a hydraulic valve that can automatically open to cause a steady circulation of coolant, pressurized and held when the systems are functioning normally, to prevent explosions or possible core meltdowns, in the worst case, because of the decay heat.
A shut down means a shut down, come hell or high water lest the plant itself produce both as an aftershock of a natural disaster, because radioactive decay is also a natural disaster waiting to happen if uncontained. And most importantly, if it can happen to Japan, it can happen to Iran. Until then the world’s nuclear reactors are unsafe, albeit safer than nuclear bombs.
Or perhaps, Japan (and Iran?) must consider changing its supplier to Exelon.