MySci Round-Up, July 21: Partial Meltdown

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On this day in 1982, engineers lowered a video camera into the sealed-off Unit 2 reactor at the benighted Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in central Pennsylvania, and got the first glimpse of the interior since the near-catastrophic accident that the unit had suffered three years before. They expected to find damage mostly to the cladding, the zirconium alloy tubes holding the reactor’s uranium oxide fuel pellets. Instead, the video investigation, and a subsequent sonar survey, revealed that the reactor had suffered such enormous damage in the accident that where there once had been a thick forest of fuel rods, there was now only an empty space. Ultimately, further investigation proved that the reactor had indeed suffered a partial meltdown, and that during the immediate crisis, 20 tons of molten fuel had broken out of the center of the core and cascaded down the inside of the reactor vessel into its bottom. TMI had come much closer to disaster than scientists had previously suspected. But even so, the catastrophic event within the reactor had not resulted in catastrophe outside it, which gave some consolation to proponents of nuclear power. And with that, here are the stories of the day:

Russia says Arctic ice is melting fast due to climate change. The season’s cumulative loss may match the record set three years ago,.

U.S. Senate likes really, really big rockets. Senators urged NASA to build a space vehicle launcher capable of reaching beyond low Earth orbit.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, but they laugh at the same stuff. A new study finds no significant differences in the two genders’ reaction to various amusing stimuli.

Honda will unveil plug-in electric cars by 2012. The new alternative-energy vehicles will compete with Toyota’s upcoming plug-in version of the Prius.

Do electrons have an additional property that explains the creation of the universe? Physicists believe the particles may have something called a permanent electric dipole moment. You’ll have to ask them to explain what it is.

Dissolving microneedles may someday replace the syringe. Patches containing micron-sized needles that transmit vaccines to the skin could simplify immunization.