Here is the update from my sister who works on environmental issues in the chemistry department at a nuclear plant in New England, at Vermont Yankee. It has always impressed me that Vermont Yankee has about 600 employees. We have all been asking what is going on and here is her response to us:
"Yeah, the media hype is just that. This is not a Chernobyl style reactor but they keep referring to it as though Chernobyl could happen in Japan. It can not, the design is entirely different. Chernobyl had no containment to speak of. With the devastation that earthquake and tsunami caused there, it’s a testament that the buildings withstood the disasters. The Fukushima plant is nearly identical to Vermont Yankee and of similar vintage. What we at the plant are being given for the facts, are contained in the Nuclear Energy Institute’s overview which you can access through link below. The thing to remember about nuclear plants is that they all employ defense in depth when it comes to protecting the environment and public in case of an emergency. I understand that because some of the fuel was exposed to the air when water level dropped, that hydrogen gas was produced and is what caused the explosion. If you open the link, you can blow up the picture of the containment building and see the cross section. Primary containment is in tack but the roof and blow out panels blew off the building in that explosion, which is secondary containment. Since the roof blew off secondary containment, their spent fuel pool is open to the atmosphere and likely they have sealed that and are keeping water level over the fuel. If they are, that should be okay. If they have a melt down of any degree, it would melt to the floor of primary containment and stop there, trapping all fission products. At least, that’s how it’s designed to work. Take a look and give a call if you have questions, I’m surrounded by people who really understand this stuff. I just understand the tip of the iceberg. I know that the level of radiation they are measuring is not that high and will likely not even be seen in Hawaii and certainly not the west coast of the U.S. The plant was designed to withstand an earthquake of 7.9 and although they’ve been met with greater challenges than what they probably trained for as a worst case, they seem to be doing pretty well. It will definitely never run again."