Did you know that embrittled nuclear reactors could shatter like glass? Watch Fairewinds Energy Education’s Nuclear Science Guy Arnie Gundersen demonstrate reactor embrittlement and imagine the shattering glass as a shattering nuclear reactor vessel. What makes embrittlement so dangerous and frightening is that during an emergency when the reactor must be cooled down quickly, the rush of cold water necessary to cool it could create a scenario that looks like the one in our video. You will only see steam escaping in our video, but in an embrittled shattering reactor vessel, that steam would be highly radioactive.
Aging nuclear reactors around the globe are subject to this steel embrittlement that is a measure of how prone the steel reactor vessel is to cracking. The metamorphous of the strong steel vessel into something as brittle and fragile as glass is due to the constant neutron bombardment from the chain reaction inside the nuclear core.
While several U.S. nuclear reactor vessels are showing early signs of embrittlement, Entergy’s Palisades nuclear plant is the most embrittled plant in the country. Located in Covert, Michigan, it is one of the oldest reactors in the world and now one of the most dangerous to continue operating due to its embrittled reactor vessel.
Palisades owner, Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. is attempting to take advantage of a 2010 regulatory change that allows embrittled nuclear plants to operate longer by analyzing the problem mathematically, rather than actually testing the material to accurately determine its strength. In the interest of nuclear safety, the Palisades reactor and all the aging reactors throughout the world should continue to be subjected to actual material testing just as they were originally designed to be.