You just fell into a pool with this thing. What is this?
How would falling in here affect your health? And could you actually survive this?
This is a spent nuclear fuel pool. And you’ve just accidentally fallen into it. But what exactly is this thing?
This large pool of water is meant to cool spent fuel rods after they come out of a nuclear reactor. While powering a nuclear reactor, these fuel rods become very, very hot. We’re talking 2,800 degrees Celsius (5,092 degrees Fahrenheit).
After it’s spent 3 to 6 years inside of a nuclear reactor, a fuel rod is no longer efficient. Problem is, it still emits plenty of harmful radiation, and it will for the next 10,000 years. Even though it’s trash, there’s not a garbage dump in the world that will accept it.
So, why is water a good place to put these things?
Not only does the water spend several decades cooling the fuel rods, but it also affects their radiation. The water essentially acts as a biological shield with hydrogen absorbing and deflecting the radiation bouncing against it. This makes it completely safe for you to stand near the pool with no ill effects.
But what happens if you fall into the water? As soon as you orient yourself, you’ll quickly notice the temperature of the pool.
This big tub of water won’t be the refreshing dip you’re looking for on a hot summer day. Instead, it’ll be around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). So a bit colder than your average hot tub but still very warm.
Let’s hope you didn’t accidentally turn off the water flow as you’re falling into the pool. If you did, then you’d be in some serious trouble.
Spent nuclear fuel pools are constantly cycling out water in order to keep it at a cool enough temperature. Remember these fuel rods are incredibly hot. And if the water isn’t cycled out, then it would heat up significantly and slowly evaporate over time. Resulting in you, burning to a crisp.
But that didn’t happen, so now that you’re starting to swim in this hot pool of water, when does the horrible radiation poisoning kick in?
Or when do you turn green and start to gain superpowers? These are the sort of things that are supposed to happen when you fall into something that has nuclear fuel in it right?
Not exactly. Although that sounds like fun, it wouldn’t happen if you were to fall into a spent nuclear fuel pool.
That’s because of the water. Not only does it protect the people outside of the pool. It’ll also protect you if you happen to fall inside one.
As long as you don’t swim several meters underwater to touch the fuel rods you’d be completely fine. In theory, you could swim in this pool until you looked like a raisin without feeling any negative effects.
Although they’re protecting something incredibly dangerous, spent nuclear fuel pools are quite serene and kind of boring. In fact, this might be a lot cleaner and safer than your average public pool. You won’t find any germs or children peeing in the water here.
Swimming in this pool would expose you to less radiation than you experience in your everyday life. We encounter radiation in medical procedures such as X-rays and CT scans. From certain fuels like gas or coal; even our televisions and other electronic screens give off tiny traces of radiation.
Swimming in here isn’t any more dangerous than watching a WHAT IF video. If splashing around in a spent nuclear fuel pool is too boring for you, how about swimming on one of Saturn’s moons?
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- “What Happens During A Nuclear Meltdown?”. Matson, John. 2011. Scientific American. Accessed May 19 2019.
- “Explainer: What Is A Fuel Rod And How Does It Work? | The Star”. Lesley Ciarula Taylor, 2011. thestar.com. Accessed May 19 2019.
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- “A Brief History Of Nuclear Accidents Worldwide”. 2019. Union Of Concerned Scientists. Accessed May 19 2019.
- “Why Is Water Such An Effective Radiation Shield? : Askscience”. 2019. reddit.com. Accessed May 19 2019.
- “NRC: Spent Fuel Storage In Pools And Dry Casks – Key Points And Questions & Answers”. 2019. nrc.gov. Accessed May 19 2019.
- “Nuclear Diving”. 2019. divingheritage.com. Accessed May 19 2019.
- “Nuclear Worker Falls Into Reactor Pool…And Goes Back To Work The Same Day”. 2012. Mail Online. Accessed May 19 2019.
- “Storage Of Nuclear Waste A ‘Global Crisis’: Report”. 2019. France 24. Accessed May 19 2019.