Listen: Serious long term concern as Fukushima’s “bizarre” melted fuel interacts with environment — Release of radionuclides now poses much longer threat compared to initial meltdowns — “We know very little” says lead author (AUDIO & VIDEO)

Published: March 21st, 2012 at 4:30 am ET


Title: Podcast Interview with Peter Burns, an author of Nuclear Fuel in a Reactor Accident
Source: Science Magazine podcast
Date: March 9, 2012
Emphasis Added

From the Science Podcast: an interview with Peter Burns about the properties of damaged nuclear fuel and developing better models for nuclear reactor accidents.

Abstract: Nuclear Fuel in a Reactor Accident

Stream the broadcast here

More on Burns and the Study

The research described in the Science paper was conducted under the auspices of Notre Dame’s Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded initiative established to pursue advanced scientific research on energy. Burns serves as director of the center.

Transcript Excerpts

Burns: […] In terms of the damaged fuel, there’s been really very limited studies. Basically several groups have studied fuel that actually has been melted in a controlled environment and its reconfiguration from a kind of physical point of view and the release of gaseous fission products from it. But what has not really been studied is the longer-term fate of that material. So after the fuel has melted and it’s mixed with various containment devices and so on – everything has been melted into a big blob – we know very little about what that blob looks like from a chemistry and heterogeneity point of view and material science point of view, and we know very little about how water or even just the air will interact with that over time. And that, of course, other than the gaseous fission products, which are basically released upon meltdown, everything else is presumably still more or less in that big unknown blob. And it’s the interaction of the water and the air with that that is going to control the release of radioactivity to the environment. […]

In Fukushima, the meltdowns were somewhere in the range of partial to complete depending on the reactor. Hydrogen explosions did cause breaches in containment. Volatile fission products, the gaseous things, probably were largely released early in the accident. But what’s different about Fukushima relative to the earlier events is the vast quantities of water that were pumped into the reactor cores and into the storage pools in order to try to cool them. And that created a whole new release pathway for radionuclides out of the reactors into the environment. We don’t know how much radioactivity was released through the water flow, and we don’t know very much about how the water interacted with the fuel and other structure materials. […]

I think we need to take very seriously the development of knowledge about how damaged and destroyed and melted nuclear fuel moves in a reactor containment vessel and then how it interacts with the environment, especially water that we might use in an emergency to cool it. Studies that have been done to date really haven’t looked at the longer-term interactions of water and the atmosphere with these damaged materials. They’ve focused mostly on the very short-term release of the gaseous and different volatile fission products. Those ones pose a lot of short-term risk, but the risk is relatively short term because those fission products typically have very short half-lives in the minutes to days kind of range; some are years. But the fuel itself – as it interacts with water or whatever over time – has a potential to release radionuclides that have much longer half-lives and they pose a much longer environmental threat. […]

Listen to the report here

Here is a shorter video of Burns, also from March 9:

“Seawater is then interacting with this bizarre material at the bottom the reactor vessel and it has the potential to dissolve a lot of radionuclides and transport them out. And that’s exactly what happened at Fukushima.”

More from Burns:

And we’re going to probably learn to design reactors better over time, and we’re also going to get a better understanding of the actual low probability events that are going to occur. Because these are the ones that get you – in the end, it’s the things that are really unlikely, but if you have enough reactors operating in the world, sooner or later some of these things will happen. And the number of reactors operating now is about 440, but that’s going to steadily increase, and one could imagine it being perhaps a thousand or more in not too many years.

[Meltdowns are] not as rare as a lot of people would think. There’s been around 20 core-melt accidents in the world to date that we know of […]

Published: March 21st, 2012 at 4:30 am ET


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  2. TV: Fukushima confirms nightmarish potential of nuclear power; Public living with threat of worst-case scenarios on daily basis — Author: “Super catastrophe” looms at plant (VIDEO) January 14, 2014
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26 comments to Listen: Serious long term concern as Fukushima’s “bizarre” melted fuel interacts with environment — Release of radionuclides now poses much longer threat compared to initial meltdowns — “We know very little” says lead author (AUDIO & VIDEO)

  • hbjon hbjon

    We know very little, except for what happened in Chernobyl, TMI, and a couple other serious nuclear accidents. A better understanding was gained, but that understanding isn't for you to understand, because if you were to understand it you would probably not be able to sleep at night. Though the facts will mostly be kept out of the mainstream, folks like us will agonize and contemplate over the possibilities for many years to come.

    • truthseek truthseek

      "You wan the truth? You can't handle the truth…"

      *yes, we all want the truth, in all the gory detail.

      And no I do not typically
      sleep wheel at night.

      • NoNukes NoNukes

        "Burns?!" This is a joke, right? Sigh.

        • NoNukes NoNukes

          Sorry for the Simpson's reference everyone (Mr. Burns is the nuclear plant owning villan on the tv show).

          The studies cited on Wikipedia seem to think that water helps to produce granulated corium "slag" and "pumice," (e.g. death).

          Slag-like granulated corium, slag-like irregular gray-magenta to dark-brown glassy granules with crust. Formed by prolonged contact of brown ceramics with water, located in large heaps in both levels of the Pressure Suppression Pool.
          Pumice, friable pumice-like gray-brown porous formations formed from molten brown corium foamed with steam when immersed in water. Located in Pressure Suppression Pool in large heaps near the sink openings, where they were carried by water flow as they were light enough to float.[32][33][34]

  • many moons

    "if you have enough reactors operating in the world, sooner or later some of these things will happen"
    These thing???? Will happpen???

    Death and destruction will happen
    The intoxification of an ocean and all the life held within…will happen.

    Do we have enough extra space on the planet for these learning curves????


    Awesome article.

    I guess the new party line will be "As they're not going away, we'll have to prepare for the worst…thus avoiding it!" That would be fine, except for the fact that a worst-case scenario will haunt us for hundreds of thousands of years! And in an industry that already has a dismal record of thousands of accidents – both minor and MAJOR – how can increasing the amount of these facilities be any kind of an acceptable solution?!

    Again, how does increasing the number of these NPPs change the possibility of a better outcome, when we've already seen the history of this technology laden with mishaps?

    Is it ethical that a handful of special interest be given the right to decide for generations to come? The only acceptable legacy is one of freedom of choice! To accept the use of nuclear power in our time, eliminates freedom from the consequences of it, in future generations. This is criminal…

  • jackassrig

    If he thinks the number of reactors are going to increase, he is on serious wacky backy. I don't think anyone in their right mind will invest in nuclear after Fuku. These SOB's need to be shut in now. Mortals do not know enough about this voo doo science to risk another accident. Is there any responsibility in this world?

    • Steven Steven

      The Chinese are pushing ahead, and expect to commission a new reactor every month from sometime around 2015 (until who knows when). Unable to reference that statement as it was in the news mid last year. There are times when the problems just seem too big. We've created a society which, like a group of tourists making loud noises in avalanche prone mountains, creates problems that are just way too big. It's simply not possible to get every single person to keep the noise down.

    • Wreedles Wreedles

      "Right mind" being the operative phrase here…

  • TheBigPicture TheBigPicture

    Nuclear reactors need to be outlawed.

  • jackassrig

    Granite vaporizes at 2710 degC-I don't have a good reference for this. I think most of the material in the ground is being vaporized. The material outside the corium is past the melting stage. Most of this crap is being released into the atmosphere.

  • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

    My takeaway from this is that there have already been 20 core melt accidents worldwide. Atomic Power = Unacceptable Risk. Work needs to be halted on new reactors. Decommission all nukes now.

    • CaptD CaptD

      Better safe that Sorry,
      Especially when dealing with the RISK of a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster!

      How can anybody disagree with that,
      … That is not getting paid or profiting from the Nuclear Industry?

  • openeye openeye


    "folks like us will agonize and contemplate over the possibilities for many years to come."

    I thought your post was brilliant except for this last phrase.

    I am living my life as though there aren't even many months to come.

    Folks like us are living in honor, feeling our agony every minute, even in the night when we can't sleep.

    And doing what we each can, in a state of total uncertainty.

    I thank you, one and all, for your caring so very deeply.

  • CaptD CaptD

    More EQ's will yield more radiation as the Corium(s) interact with the ground water below the Complex…

    Then expect to see more Black Rain and Black G☢☢ in Northern Japan!

  • CaptD CaptD

    BTW: Have you all seen this:

  • yeah sure. radioactive loaded buckyballs….. sure. wgat else? packed and sealed by a fairy queen?
    doubt the buckyball as shown (c60?) has enough room inside for pu and U atoms.

    • NoNukes NoNukes


      Are you saying that you don't believe in uranium VI or uranium peroxide hydrate?

      I thought that the claim was that the uranium turned into uranium VI or uranium peroxide, what does that have to do with (anti-nuke) fairy queens? Help for the confused appreciated.

      Uranium in nuclear fuel rods is in a chemical form that is “pretty insoluble” in water, Navrotsky said, unless the uranium is oxidized to uranium-VI — a process that can be facilitated when radiation converts water into peroxide, a powerful oxidizing agent.

      Peter Burns, professor of civil engineering and geological sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a co-author of the new paper, had previously made spherical uranium peroxide clusters, rather like carbon “buckyballs,” that can dissolve or exist as solids.

      In the new paper, the researchers show that in the presence of alkali metal ions such as sodium — for example, in seawater — these clusters are stable enough to persist in solution or as small particles even when the oxidizing agent is removed.

    • CaptD CaptD

      Read the article and check the Professionals that are working on this before you post complaints without any links to back up your denial!

      Have a point of view great, back it up or use IMO with your own thoughts…

  • howardtlewisiii

    The U.S. Congress and White House and the Japanese central governments have become the most replaceable organizations on earth.

  • Just like the Cash for Clunker program that took alot of gas guzzlers off the road,
    Obama should make a

    Nuke Cash for Clunkers. Any plant over 30YO is eligible. The nuke plant emergency funds, as well as general fund would "buy" the Clunker from the owner and decommission it. Owners would provide their budget set aside for decommission, and the nuke energy emergency fund would also be tapped.

    These Old Clunkers need help

  • PoorDaddy PoorDaddy

    Yay! Bucks for Becquerels, Money for Meltdowns, Dollars for DeathPlants and in Italy, Lira's for Leakers.