After the Japanese military spent much of last week struggling to cool spent rods at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, resorting to spraying them with fire hoses in some cases, the situation seems to have calmed recently as power was restored to at least two of the plant’s reactors. Though just as Prime Minister Naoto Kan stated that he could see “a light at the end of the tunnel” of the disaster, workers were evacuated as plumes of smoke poured from two of the damaged reactors.
The folks over at IV Insights, the blog associated with Nathan Myhrvold‘s Intellectual Ventures, point out that it was the complete loss of power that disabled the cooling systems protecting the plant’s reactors. Which raises the question: Is there nuclear technology that could withstand such a catastrophe? Possibly. TerraPower, an Intellectual Ventures spin-off that also boasts Bill Gates as an investor, is working on a new reactor design called a traveling wave reactor that uses fast reactor technology, rather than the light water technology used at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The two biggest advantages of the fast reactor design is that it requires no spent fuel pools and uses cooling systems that require no power to function, meaning the loss of power from the tsunami might not have crippled a fast reactor plant so severely. Read more here.