Given the amount of news coverage about the Fukushima Power Plant's "near-meltdown", I thought I would spend a little time talking about common misconceptions about nuclear power.
How We Get Power
Traditional coal-fired plants operate by using coal from the ground as fuel to heat water which then turns into steam and pushes a turbine which creates electricity. It's dirty and seems old-fashioned and Rube Goldbergesque. Duke Energy is kind enough to provide a moving picture for you more graphically inclined.
So nuclear power comes on the scene and it seems space-aged. Granted, it was all during the 60's and 70's, so that added to it, but surely this was the technology that would leap over coal, right? Well, nuclear plants provide power by using radioactive rods to provide heat to a pool of water which then provides steam which pushes a turbine. Seems like a Jetsons beginnng with a Flintstones ending. Here's the in-depth explanation of this process. So we're really talking about saving the earth by not burning fossil fuels, which I'm all for, but still disappointed that nuclear power isn't powering my house by some sort of glowing orb.
There were reports earlier of people in the US who were looking for potassium iodide. This is a compound that combines potassium and sodium, hence the salty banana, to protect your thyroid from radioactive iodine. Mostly used for kids. We give it out to people who live within 10 miles of a nuclear power station in this country, usually. And some people treat it like the cure for cancer. Lemme be real. You can eat kelp (seaweed) and get as much protection. Additionally, this will only protect your thyroid from iodine poisoning, so if you're hit with gamma radiation, it won't do crap. Also, if you take it and stay in an area of concentrated radiation, your thyroid will be fine, but your face could look like this.
For the Kids
Finally, you may have children and not know how to explain what's happening over there to them, or need to calm their fears. If this is the case, I'd suggest you not let them watch this Japanese PSA on the disaster for kids. The first time they fart, they'll start screaming. Enjoy it.