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Colorado Nuclear Expert: Limited Risk From Japanese Reactor Problems

DENVER (CBS4) – A nuclear energy expert in Colorado believes a full meltdown is unlikely at any of the troubled reactors in Japan’s hard-hit quake zone.

“Half of the building is gone,” said Dr. Jeff King, the interim director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

But King is encouraged because the explosion at the Fukushima Reactor No. 1 left the reactor’s steel containment vessel intact.

“Radioactive material for the most part is being contained,” he said.

Visit for the latest on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

It’s true a couple of troubled reactors had their nuclear fuel rods exposed instead of being bathed in cooling water. This problem, caused by the earthquake, could theoretically allow the rods to become so hot they actually melt down.

“That’s not what is happening,” asserted the assistant professor.

Instead, he suspects some fuels rods may be damaged and, at the very worst, there has been a partial meltdown.

How worrisome is this?

“Not very,” he said.
space Colorado Nuclear Expert: Limited Risk From Japanese Reactor Problems

King commends the Japanese for responding appropriately to the crisis caused by the earthquake. But pumping seawater to cool the reactor is an extreme step.

“It sacrifices the assets,” he noted, meaning the costly power plant is likely ruined in the process.

Offshore readings have detected escaping radioactive material as far as 100 miles from the crippled reactors. But King, who used to work as a nuclear waste inspector with the U.S. Department of Energy, says the readings need to be put into context.

Visit for the latest on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“Right now, the levels they’re seeing at the site boundary are the equivalent to four chest X-rays,” he explained.

King is confident what little radioactive material does escape is not significant enough to pose a health problem for U.S. citizens, including those living in Hawaii, which is much closer to Japan than the U.S. mainland.

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  • James McDonald

    A thought from a part time inventor could lead shot be pumped into the reactors core with the water circulation system. The lead shot collecting in the reaction chamber should act as shielding slowing the reaction and cooling the reactors core. If you have sufficient water pressure cooling water could still be circulated through the lead shot in the core removing the extra heat. I would start with a laboratory test to prove this hypothesis. This could be calculated and simulated in a computer model. There should be in place a last resort protocol for all reactors. You could drop lead shot bombs from a safe distance without endangering anyone add dirt or sand and cap with concrete. The melting core will melt the lead then mix and diffuse the reaction. Good luck!
    Gods speed!
    James McDonald

  • Chris

    They’re already injecting boron which acts to chemically shutdown any nuclear reactions along with the water that is cooling the fuel. The problem is the decay heat from the fission products in the fuel matrix. These will continue to generate large amounts of heat for significant periods of time following the shutdown of the reactor. How long the heat generation lasts really depends on how high of a power level the reactor was operating at and how long it operated there.

  • Chelsea

    This guy couldn’t have been more wrong! As an expert, he should have been honest about what was actually going on, and should have exercised extreme care while offering his “expert” opinion on television. What he was actually doing was downplaying the devastating role of nuclear power, and trying to convince everyone it is still a safe form of energy. Clearly not even close to the reality. Now the meltdown is a more critical issue than the earthquake and tsunami! CBS, never use this “expert” again!

    • Aaron

      Chelsea, Dr. King is a professor at the Colorado School of Mines and has nothing to gain by be untruthful about the nuclear industry. Once you have a PhD in nuclear engineering, I will be happy to listen to your opinion about how the reactor will behave, but until then I suggest that you stop spreading false information and stop trying to fear monger.

    • Robet

      Chelsea, I don’t understand why you believe that “the meltdown is a more critical issue than the earthquake and the tsunami.” Are you ignorant of the tens of thousands of people killed by the earthquake and tsunami? Have you forgotten the hundreds of thousands of homeless caused by the earthquake and tsunami? Are you ignorant of the refinery burning for weeks causing air pollution and toxic carbon dioxide greenhouse gas poissoning of the air? So far the only one person killed at Fukushima died from tsunami violence. You must be a very insensitive coldharted antinukekook to ignore all that suffering to promote whatever you believe about the obviously far smaller impact of nuclear power on Japan. Shame on you!

  • s kenney

    Decay heat appears to be the critical issue here. Why wasn’t power supplied to reactor coolant pumps in the primary and feed pumps in the secondary. Vent the secondary steam to atmosphere if the turbines are off line. If venting to atmosphere, use either fresh water or seawater to make up for the loss of water to secondary. 3 phase generators could have been flown in or trucked in. Use generators on Japanese or American naval ships and subs if no other power sources are available. Why wasn’t this done immediately? Did the Japanese drop the ball here because they were unable to think outside of the box and come up with solutions to decay heat removal?

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