Nine Ways Hollywood Gets Nuclear Energy Completely Wrong

By Holden Hodgdon in Daily Lists, Movies, Nerdery, Tech
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 6:00 am

This list is inspired by the movie Pacific Rim, but don't misunderstand, I actually love the movie. However there is one MAJOR issue in it that I find inexcusable, and it is an issue that nearly all of the international film industry gets wrong (but mostly Hollywood).

Nuclear Reactors do not explode.


Every damn time someone in a movie mentions that something is powered by a nuclear reactor, you know it is inevitably going to be used as an atomic bomb; there is no end to how much this pisses me off. With how much goddamned money they sink into these things, why is it so hard to have someone sit down and fact check about your linch pin, plot twist, ace in the hole? It is funda-god-damned-mentally impossible for a nuclear powered generator to cause a thermonuclear explosion, because physics, and what it takes to cause one, and fuckin' A why can't you lazy ass Hollywood bastards do you homework.

OK, fair warning disclaimer here: this is going to be educational, so bear the fuck with me on this as I am a firm believer that obscenities make everything better, especially education.

Other disclaimer: on a technical / scientific level, this whole thing is garbage; however the fundamental concepts are accurate and the end result is close enough to hit the target.

1. First off, Radiation Is Probably Not What You Think.


What is really going on when something is radioactive is that it has an imbalance in its structure, so little bits of it break free and fly off as it tries to balance itself. Radiation is just particles and bits of energy breaking free from an unstable atom, and then RADIATING off. That is it - radiation is just an action instead of a thing, an adjective instead of a noun, and it is only the TYPE of material RADIATING that makes it bad. Where shit gets fucked up is that those little bits don't just disappear, they go flying until they smack the shit out of something else, potentially causing whatever they hit to become unstable itself.

Radiological Worker Training Instructor's Guide, Module 2: Biological Effects, P.26

It may be easier to consider it like this: that asteroid that hit the earth and wiped out all the dinosaurs probably started out as a small moon circling some other planet. Who the hell knows where; probably wasn't even in our solar system. Then one day it, as it was orbiting, it got going too fast and broke away from its planet's gravity; RADIATING out into space, going "Wheeeeeeeee." After a long ass time of "Wheeeeeing" it smashed into the earth and killed all the fuckin' dinosaurs. That's what radiation does; it kills all the fuckin' dinosaurs, or at least that is where most awareness of radiation ends. Here is the thing: that asteroid didn't kill the dinosaurs; it just changed shit and the dinosaurs died out because they couldn't adapt. Which sucked for the dinosaurs, but without that change humans wouldn't be what they are today. Change is not intrinsically evil; it is just change.

2. Fun With Bombs!

Love the bomb.

So radioactive elements are just clumps of unbalanced shit, with even littler shit flaking off to go "Wheeeeing" and killing all the fuckin' dinosaurs on other elements. How a nuclear bomb works, and this is public information (for any NSA-types reading this), is that you get a clump of radioactive elements and then crush it using explosives, causing all of it to lose its collective shit at one time. The trick is that you have to crush it from every direction, at the same time, to get it to work. Top, bottom, left, right, front, back, and every direction in between has to exert the same exact amount of implosive force, at the same time; something that is not simple to do with shape charges. If you get it wrong then the radioactive element will just squirt out the gap that is causing the least amount of force, like the most lethal diarrhea in the world.

But if you get it right ... the force and heat generated, by all that unbalanced shit impacting each other, causes this tiny, sun-like speck of energy; instantly igniting the environment around it before burning itself out in a millisecond.


Trivia to impress your next date: Most of the damage and visual effect we relate to a nuclear explosion is not actually the nuclear part of the explosion - it is the environment being ignited. The nuclear part is just a spark; probably the most powerful spark in the multiverse, but it is still just a spark. Much like popping the ignitor on a grill; if there ain't no gas, you ain't gonna do no cooking. The nuclear "pop" in the center of an atomic blast is tiny in comparison to the over all effect, however that pop then instantly burns all that atmosphere in the area around it. That burning atmosphere then causes a shock wave just like hitting the ignitor on your grill when the gas is on, and will cause a *whump* as the excess gas gets burned off. Let's call it the *whump* of doom.

So there is a big-ass fireball, burning the shit out of everything, and this *whump* of doom blasts out. Then there is nothing; literally, there is nothing left in the spot where the fireball goes off. A nuclear blast is so hot when it goes off, that it burns a pocket of vacuum into the fucking atmosphere of the planet. IT BURNS A POCKET OF VACUUM INTO THE ATMOSPHERE...just think on the gravity of that for a second. Nature abhors a void, so once the physical force of the *whump* of doom dies down, things switch from blow to suck. The atmosphere surrounding the blast floods back in to that void, sucking up any loose material with it. Topsoil, gravel, the ashen remains of a hundred thousand people instantly incinerated; stuff like that. Another law of nature is that hot goes up, while cold goes down, and everything that just got sucked into the post *whump* of doom void is hot enough to make a volcano look slightly warm.

So this newly formed ball of dirt, small rocks and incinerated life rockets up into the sky as it tries to get higher than everything that is colder that it, which is e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. But as it climbs up the outer layers start cooling off and slows down, while the inside of it is still hot and going fast. So the outer layers fold over as the inside pushes on, which creates the mushroom-like shape of, you guessed it, a mushroom cloud.


There is more that goes on after the fireworks; go watch a movie called Barefoot Gen, as it gives a better accounting of life after the bomb than I can detail here.

3. Self-Heating Tea Kettles.

Run for youe lives!

Back to radiation and the "Wheeeing" & "killing all the fuckin' dinosaurs;" that was just the particles. I also mentioned there was energy too, which I will now get to. Setting something on fire is also a form of radioactive event, but it's less particles and more energy. When you light a bundle of sticks in a campfire, or throw a burning rag into an abandoned house, you start a chain reaction; the applied heat causes bonds in the material it is applied to to weaken and break apart. When that happens, the act of a bond breaking causes a release of energy which also RADIATES out with the released particle; this energy takes the form of light and more heat. In turn, the released energy can weaken the bonds in surrounding materials, which lights them on fire too ... or boils them if they are a liquid.

The unholy spawn of Satan dwelling in the heart of every reactor (AKA Nuclear fuel pellets)

Well, to be technical: solids melt into liquids, liquids boil into gases, and gases burn into particles. Cooling causes that to run in reverse; particles → gas → liquid → solid.


Shit, ass, poop, fart, dickhead; sorry, I realized I was a little behind on my obscenities.

Radioactive elements do the same thing, they are just actively breaking down at a slower rate. So while a burning stick can release all its shit (AKA energy) in a matter of moments, Plutonium 244 takes 80 million years to lose half of its shit. However, just because radioactive elements "burn" at a slower pace, that doesn't mean that they don't get hot. Fuck ups at a nuclear power plant aren't called meltdowns 'cause it sounds cool.

The mental image behind a nuclear power plant is something like the flaming core of the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, and that image is total horse shit. I've seen the core of a nuclear power plant - it looks like a big-ass swimming pool. My uncle works in the nuclear power industry, and he took us on a tour of the plant he worked at when I was 14; seeing the core was actually kinda boring. I was more interested in going back to his office so I could play vector tanks on his workstation; No, my priorities have not changed much since then.

I have no idea why all of them have blue lighting.

Radioactive elements produce energy and particles; some of that energy results in heat, however not all radioactive material produces the same type of shit. Some of it produces heat, some of it doesn't; the type you need to make a nuclear bomb is the type that does not. You take a pile of the shit that makes heat, dump it in a bucket of water, bolt an electric turbine to the bucket; the shit that makes heat boils the water into steam, the steam spins the turbine, the turbine generates electricity, and you you have a power plant. You may also have a bunch of steam laced with shit, but you DO NOT have a potential nuclear bomb just waiting to save our asses from inter-dimensional, hive minded, anal-probing alien invaders.

Hey baby, wanna come back to my place and incubate something?

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