Physics Professor Mark Utlaut answers your questions about nuclear power

By The Beacon | March 23, 2011 9:00pm

(The Beacon)

By Rosemary Peters, Editor-in-Chief --

Q: What happened in Japan to cause the nuclear crisis the country is experiencing?

A: The reactors did well in the earthquake, but it was the tsunami that got it. It looks like the water may have flooded the pumps and controls. The plant was probably experiencing hardware issues. Also, it is not just water that entered the plant – it is ocean bed, topsoil, mud and seawater. That is not good for electronics and seawater is highly conductive and corrosive.

Q: Concerns have been raised in the media about trace amounts of nuclear radiation from Japan hitting the West Coast. Could this happen? If so, what would the ramifications be?

A: In general, radiation is something to be concerned about. It is radioactivity. If it interacts with biological material it can cause genetic problems. Any time there is an explosion, stuff goes up and then falls back down and stays residually around the explosion. To get here from there by wind is problematic because of the way currents go., though they run south of us. Places in California would be more affected.

Q: Are there steps people can take to protect themselves from radiation if there ever is a nuclear radiation emergency?

A: People can take iodine, but we naturally get iodine from living near the ocean. People in Kansas who don't live near the ocean put iodine in their salt. However, if you take too much, there are problems that way. Basically the government would help if there was a real problem – they want you to pay taxes after all.

Q: The decommissioned Trojan Nuclear power plant is about 40 miles outside of Portland. All the uranium from the power plant still sits in bins on the property. Are there any health risks that could pose?

A: We are upriver from the Trojan Nuclear power plant. Even if there is an earthquake, nothing would probably happen.

Q: Could Hanford, a power plant in central Washington with an active reactor, be an issue?

A: Maybe. We're down river from Hanford, and Hanford is a colossal nightmare. They've buried stuff for years. I don't know how water gets to Columbia there. They don't know what it is doing to the water.

-Rosemary Peters