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Meltdown 101: A brief glossary of nuclear terms

For those who don’t work in the nuclear energy field, some of the terms being thrown around in news coverage of the events unfolding at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are being heard for the first time. These definitions will provide some clarity.

By Leigh Montgomery, Geoff Johnson

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A handout photo shows (from L-R) reactors No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in northern Japan March 15.

Tokyo Electric Power Co./Reuters

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Containment building

A containment building houses a nuclear reactor, coolant pumps, and other equipment. Often made of steel-reinforced concrete as an additional barrier to prevent fission material from escaping in the event of an accident. The shiny buildings of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant have become the recognizable symbol of the earthquake’s impact on a beleaguered industry. There was significant damage to at least three of them, with an explosion that ripped off the roof of one, though the interior structure was intact. The roof and walls of another were torn. Another sustained damage, though the reactor had been shut down for maintenance.

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