4. You Keep Using That Word, but I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.
The iconic steam billowing from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant is not the steam that is laced with shit - it is just normal steam. Nuclear reactors operate on a closed loop; the shit boils the water, the steam spins the turbine, then the steam is piped into a cooling system that condenses the steam back down into water, and then that water is piped back into the bucket of shit to be boiled again. Once a reactor starts boiling water for steam it becomes shit water, but there is no real problem with reusing shit water to make more shit steam. However, cooling off and condensing that shit steam takes quite a bit more than just blowing on it. That is why nuclear power plants are always built near flowing water; to cool off the shit steam they dump the cold ass, flowing water over the (radioactivity shielded) pipes carrying the shit steam.
It is not a perfect system and sometimes the shit gets too hot, but at that point they will insert "control rods" into the bucket to soak up radiation and cool down the reactor. If the earth were different than what it is, that "Wheeing" asteroid that "killed all the fuckin' dinosaurs" could have ended up going *boink* instead of *boom*. Like if the earth had actually been Jupiter; Jupiter has no fuckin' dinosaurs to kill, and it is so big that it would have eaten that asteroid like a gumdrop. There are other elements out there that can eat radiation like Jupiter can eat asteroids; when you stuff those types of elements into the core of a nuclear power plant, it eats up the radiation and shuts down the reactor.
Quick, to the nuclear bomb refrigerator!
Now let's do like Hollywood does; pull out all the control rods and shut down the cooling system. OH MY FUCKING GOD, IT IS GOING TO MELTDOWN, IT IS GONNA FUCKING MELT DOWN AND ... melt. If you let the engine in your car overheat, does it explode and flip your car into the air? Well, it does if it is a movie car, so a nuclear power plant turning into an atomic bomb isn't that far out of form for Hollywood. In the real world, all that will happen is that your engine block will melt, or at least warp, until the pistons can't fire anymore and it shuts down. A nuclear reactor does much the same thing, only it is more shitty and poisonous. The excess heat will boil off all the water in the shit bucket and the pressure will then cause the reactor to "blow up," but it is a steam based pressure explosion instead of a nuclear bomb.
The roof may blow off, radioactive shit will spill out, and then the radioactive fuel that is overheating will just sit there until it decays into something stable. Yes, that will fuck up the environment around it, and it will fuck it up quite badly at that, but it will not explode. So, a nuclear generator is really just a big ass, self heating, self refilling, tea kettle with a turbine attached to make electricity when it starts whistling.
The next time Hollywood spits out some flick with a dramatic pause and inflection pointing out that they have a nuclear reactor just waiting to blow up, mentally edit that out and replace it with "tea kettle" to see why this issue pisses me off.
5. When It Does Go Wrong.
Most nuclear power plants are actually built so that if they do melt down, they will melt down in a way that collapses the building onto the core of the reactor, forming a limited cap to restrict the amount of radioactive contamination. Typically, that will not happen; there are systems in place where operators can flood the reactor core with control rod like compounds that will irreversibly smother the radioactive fuel into a near inert form. For a nuclear reactor to critically melt down, you pretty much have to be intentionally causing it. Like the dipshits at Chernobyl; those dumb fucks shut off the control systems just to see what would happen, and then found out that their crappy system wouldn't turn back on when it started to go to hell.
6. War Is Always Changing; It Is the Political Bullshit Behind It That Is Stagnant.
Back to the issue of nuclear bombs: they are not actually as powerful as portrayed. Hiroshima and Nagasaki got the shit blown out of them because most of their buildings were built out of sticks. If a modern urban environment were to be hit with a thermonuclear weapon, the damage would be dramatically less, uhh, dramatic. Buildings constructed out of reinforced concrete will not crumble to ash like something built from wood; they melt, they sag, some of the bigger ones would come down just like the World Trade Center did, and good god the NSA is going to be all up in my ass for this. Urban buildings would also soak up and deflect much of the emitted radiation, resulting in far less (or less severe) cases of radiation poisoning. It will not be happy, happy, fun time; but neither will it be the Mad Max-like total devastation inspired by Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
7. Nuclear Weapons Also Won't Work in Space, and Michel Bay Is a Dumb Fuck.
When a nuke goes off, it has to have something fueling it to cause any real damage. In the air, a nuke goes *kaboom* because the air is flammable. In the water, a nuke goes *woosh* because the water can boil. In space, a nuke goes *fizz* because there ain't shit up there. If you want a nuclear weapon to cause any sort of effect beyond a healthy spark, you will have to pack a shit ton of extra material around it for it to burn when it goes off. They are called "THEROMO-NUCLEAR," and "thermo" means "heat." A nuclear weapon is a big-ass heat weapon, but if it has nothing to burn it can't do shit.
That asteroid in Armageddon would have been composed of largely inert compounds baked by solar radiation for millions of years; there is no way that thing would have been suitable environmental fuel for a nuclear blast. In order to generate the depicted / required detonation to to break up the asteroid they would have had to ship up several tons of fissionable material (like hydrogen) with it as fuel. Which they sure as hell didn't do, and they may as well have depicted blowing that thing up by shooting it with a hand gun.
8. Nuclear Waste Is Bad, M'kay.
Yes, nuclear waste is "bad" for the environment, but have you ever seen the aftermath of a mountain strip-mined for coal? How about that "oil spill" in the gulf of Mexico - beautiful right? Even hydroelectric dams cause hell for the environment, both up and down stream from the dam itself. Solar cells involve some highly caustic chemicals to manufacture and can not be repaired when they burn out, resulting in both toxic and physical waste over time. Even wind turbines involve a sizable manufacturing industry to produce, and then are selectively ineffective as you need a perfect spot for them to even work.
There is no such thing as "clean" energy; even a wood fire causes smoke and holds the potential for mass destruction when not controlled. Nuclear waste can (and will) cause environmental harm without proper treatment, but that goes for everything. The biggest toxic waste issue humanity has ever had to deal with was how to deal with our own shit and piss, which took research and study to find a viable solution, not adopting the policy of "just don't do it." Despite having a much higher threat from losing control than conventional energy sources, nuclear energy actually produces far less waste byproducts per the amount of power produced. Efficiency with high threat and complex / demanding controls vs inefficient but easy to control and low perceived threat; there is no give without a take.
Keep in mind that Hiroshima and Nagasaki currently sport a combined population of 1.5 million people, the Three Mile Island reactor is still operational today, and you can sign up for a guided tour to walk around Pripyat city (Chernobyl) in street clothes.
9. Appropriate Alternatives for Fictitious Power Sources.
... and then we freeze it at the point of bullshit, then get on with the show.
Two words: fission & fusion; these, dear Hollywood, are the words you are looking for. Technically they both apply to nuclear reactions, but neither really apply to what you are depicting when you blow up a nuclear power plant. Fission is when things release energy when they break apart. Which is the reaction at the heart of a nuclear generator, but it is only harvesting the byproduct heat to boil water. A real fission reactor would be one that applies some force onto a material, causing the material to erupt in directly harvestable energy. A fusion reactor would be one that crushes material together, squeezing energy out of it. An example of fusion is to rapidly freeze the fuck-shit out of something so that it releases energy as it compresses - this is called cold fusion, it is total bunk, and does not work, but that never stopped you guys before.
Please use one of those two options the next time you need a magic power supply, or just make some shit up instead of bullshiting real science. But please, never again blow up another nuclear generator.
Previously by Holden Hodgdon: