Does nuclear energy have a future, in light of the events at Fukushima? Fukushima Daiichi is the six-unit nuclear-power station on the northeast coast of Japan that was hit by a powerful tsunami, preceded by one of the strongest earthquakes on record. The extent of the damage is considerable: The three reactors that were operating at the time of the earthquake were destroyed by the high-pressure steam produced by heat from radioactive decay and the explosive reaction of hydrogen inside the structures. The hydrogen was produced by chemical reactions between water and the protective, corrosion-resistant layer of zirconium alloy that normally seals radioactive material in a controlled location.
Those who design, build, and operate nuclear-energy facilities know that bad things can happen. They understand energy, shock absorption, chemistry, physics, and radiation, and they invest a great deal of time and effort to build facilities with layers of defense that can undergo a number of failures while still succeeding in protecting against public harm.