Though I know that two posts in one day is recently unprecedented, I've been meaning to post about the Japan nuclear crisis for a few days. The various major news outlets are doing a good job, or so it seems, of keeping us informed of the events going on over there. However, I found myself rather puzzled over the physics of what was happening. From the news articles I was unable to figure out what was actually causing the meltdown, beyond some problem with the cooling. As a postdoc in my lab asked, "Isn't all they have to do drop the control rods and the reaction ends?" So I decided to do a little digging. I've found a couple of places that do a nice job of explain some of the physics of what is actually happening, nature news (not sure if the nature blogs are behind a paywall), and scientific american (not up on current events, but a nice summary of what can/might go wrong). I'm sure there are many other places doing a good job of explaining things, but these are the ones and I found, and hopefully they help clarify what is actually happening.
This is a physics blog written by a bunch of graduate students out of Cornell.
The Virtuosi is in no way officially affiliated with Cornell University. It is the side project of some of its graduate students. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the university or the physics department.