This article discusses the real-world practicality of nuclear power. Neither reactors nor casks of spent fuel have the capability of going “prompt critical” like a bomb. The laws of nature prohibit it and engineers must make clear that facts of nature are not matters of opinion. The Chernobyl reactor, which failed so spectacularly in Ukraine in 1986, became for many a symbol of the dangers represented by nuclear reactors. But that is not warranted; such an accident is simply impossible for the kind of commercial reactors now being planned or built. From a public safety standpoint, the most important feature of our current reactors is that, after any event that ruptures the reactor coolant system, a large amount of water and steam would be violently swirling around inside the containment structure, even if containment structure has been ruptured. In the emerging context of realistically reexamining many long-held assumptions, engineers will find opportunities to drastically improve the way nuclear power plants are built and operated.

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