A: Corium is the name of the lava-like substance formed in the intense heat of a runaway reactor, composed of molten nuclear core fuel, moderator, fuel rod housings and any other material the molten mass comes in contact with. It's the "melt" in "meltdown."
After the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, researchers around the world (and especially in Europe) have been conducting experiments using extremely high-temperature furnaces to create synthetic "meltdowns" that will help design safer reactors and power plants. Some excellent information on corium research is available at the French Comissariat ál 'Energie Atomique (CEA)'s website. The PLINIUS project includes papers on the VULCANO prototypic corium furnace. For more information, I suggest the CEA paper "Flow and solidification of corium in the VULCANO facility" by Christophe Journeau, et al. [1.5Mb PDF file]
Q: I think nuclear power is inherently dangerous, and your website seems to promote its use. I don't think that's very responsible.
A: While I agree that nuclear energy in many ways is inherently dangerous (as its history has shown), the fact remains there are many power plants currently in operation - and are unlikely to be shut down any time soon. Rising fossil-fuel prices are also likely to result in an increased demand for alternative energy sources for electricity generation - including dependency on our existing nuclear plants. Also, the advent of nuclear power has been one of the shaping forces of the 20th century - and it is still a fascinating topic, despite its checkered history.
Q: What is the significance of the image of the sculpture that appears in the upper right-hand corner of the blog?
A: That's a Henry Moore sculpture entitled "Nuclear Energy" - you can see it at the University of Chicago campus at the former location of Stagg Field (on the east side of Ellis Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets), where Enrico Fermi created the first controlled self-sustaining atomic reaction on December 2, 1942. The massive piece rests on a large rectangular concrete platform marked with radiating outward lines, and its caption reads,
"On December 2, 1942, man achieved here the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy."It's a rather awe-inspiring sight, and the sculpture itself suggests a variety of shapes: some people think it looks like a human skull, some look at it and see the shape of a mushroom cloud; I think it looks a bit like both. The University of Chicago website listed below says Henry Moore hoped those viewing it would "go around it, looking out through the open spaces, and that they may have a feeling of being in a cathedral."
So, while many other scientists helped create the foundations of nuclear energy as we know it, Chicago can be called the true birthplace of of the Atomic Age! You can read more about it at http://physics.uchicago.edu/moore_sculpture.html.
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