The tornadoes that blew through the Midwest yesterday damaged homes and buildings including a research nuclear reactor facility at Kansas State University. The reactor, a TRIGA Mark II model, has been operating since 1962, making it one of the oldest operating models of its design in America. One might think a hazardous explosion or a reactor core meltdown would occur if a tornado slammed into a 46 year old nuclear reactor, right? Wrong.
Shutting down a nuclear reaction is a relatively simple process, and K-State’s research reactor was deactivated before the storm. By simply inserting control rods that absorb the neutrons which fissure uranium fuel, the nuclear core becomes inert.
This “non-incident” at Kansas State’s reactor is another demonstration of nuclear power’s safety. If a tornado can damage the housing of a nuclear reactor and not trigger a hazardous situation, is there any reason to fear the normal operations of a nuclear power plant?
And what about other natural disasters like earthquakes? Opponents of nuclear often claim that building new plants anywhere near an earthquake fault line could be a huge risk. However, it is estimated that approximately 20% of the world’s nuclear reactors are built in areas of ‘significant seismic activity.’ Countries that have more significant seismic activity than the United States, such as Japan, have built their reactors to shut down automatically and can have them up running again in days.