Using the Sound of Nuclear Energy

A simple idea based on a high school experiment could be a warning signal ahead of a nuclear meltdown.

(Inside Science) — Natural disasters can happen anywhere in the world at any time. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency, between 2011 and 2016 the United States alone dealt with more than 700 major natural disasters, ranging from floods and earthquakes to severe storms and wildfires that burned out of control.

For many disasters, the effects linger long afterwards. Strong winds from hurricanes and tornadoes can topple trees and demolish buildings. Snowstorms can knock out power for weeks. And wildfires rush through areas leaving only ashes in the wake.

In the wake of most natural disasters, the destruction can be cleaned up and things can get back to normal. But what happens when a natural disaster causes a domino effect that leaves behind problems for months and years afterwards?

In 2011, three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant lost power and melted down following a massive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake. What steps can science take to help stop catastrophic effects from happening in the future?

However, it wasn’t the earthquake that caused the nuclear accident, but what happened right after.

The earthquake originated about 80 miles off the coast of the main part of Japan, Honshu island. It lasted less than 10 minutes but caused a ricochet effect that moved the entire country of Japan a few meters to the east. That tripped safety measures at the reactors, causing them to scram or shut down.

Steven Garrett, a professor of acoustics at Pennsylvania State University, said, “When the earthquake struck, it was the largest recorded earthquake. All of the systems of the reactor worked perfectly; it shut down and restarted. The problem was that 45 minutes later a tsunami came in.”

Because the earthquake’s epicenter was under the ocean, it caused a subsequent tsunami that covered nearly 300 square miles, destroying or severely…

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