History Main / GoingCritical

2nd Nov '17 10:27:26 AM SeptimusHeap
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* In ''{{VideoGame/Half-Life 2}}'', A dark matter reactor in a Doom Fortress is enough to fling cars into the air and knock a train off its tracks at least a mile away.

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* In ''{{VideoGame/Half-Life 2}}'', ''VideoGame/HalfLife2'', A dark matter reactor in a Doom Fortress is enough to fling cars into the air and knock a train off its tracks at least a mile away.
10th Oct '17 8:56:43 PM AFP
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Added DiffLines:

*** While preventing the warp core from breaching due to damage can be a daunting proposition, it ''does'' make for a very convenient SelfDestructMechanism: All that is required is to shut down the ContainmentField, which mostly requires the consent of several senior officers to get the computer to disable the failsafes. In ''StarTrekDiscovery'', we see a Federation starship manage this within a few seconds of being rammed by a much larger Klingon ship, [[TakingYouWithMe resulting in the destruction of both ships.]]
19th Sep '17 9:56:37 PM Ferot_Dreadnaught
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* In ''FanFic/HeroesOfTheDeskRepercussions'', an escort ship is attacked by an 0-23-8, resulting in a reactor explosion. Seeing this happen, the ship it is protecting promptly [[GenreSavvy shuts down]] its own powerplant to avoid a similar fate. [[spoiler:Given that the attacker is a 4-dimensional being that can reach inside anything 3-dimensional and rearrange whatever it wants, it's not hard to see how pulling a few wires might make things go boom.]]

to:

* In ''FanFic/HeroesOfTheDeskRepercussions'', an escort ship is attacked by an 0-23-8, resulting in a reactor explosion. Seeing this happen, the ship it is protecting promptly [[GenreSavvy shuts down]] down its own powerplant to avoid a similar fate. [[spoiler:Given that the attacker is a 4-dimensional being that can reach inside anything 3-dimensional and rearrange whatever it wants, it's not hard to see how pulling a few wires might make things go boom.]]
30th Jul '17 12:27:51 PM Morgenthaler
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* The ''{{Franchise/Alien}}'' franchise has done this twice - first with the reactor of the ''Nostromo'' in ''{{Film/Alien}}'', and then with the reactor of the atmosphere processor in ''{{Film/Aliens}}''.

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* The ''{{Franchise/Alien}}'' franchise has done this twice - first with the reactor of the ''Nostromo'' in ''{{Film/Alien}}'', and then with the reactor of the atmosphere processor in ''{{Film/Aliens}}''. In the first example, this is because Ripley turns on the SelfDestructMechanism on the ship to kill the alien and is too late to turn it back off. In the second, it was the result of an accidental weapons discharge inside the plant that damaged some component and set off a slow chain reaction.
26th Jun '17 9:36:36 AM Morgenthaler
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* In the ''Franchise/StarWars'' series, a proton torpedo to the Death Star's reactor causes the entire space station - which is the size of a small moon - to explode like a plastic model full of gunpowder. Although considering the energy output of the thing was enough to blow up an actual planet just as violently, maybe that's not unreasonable.
** ''Film/RogueOne'' reveals a [[JustifiedTrope justification]]: [[spoiler:Galen Erso, one of the Death Star's chief engineers and Rebel Alliance sympathizer, specifically designed the reactor system to suffer a catastrophic chain reaction when provided with the appropriate trigger.]]

to:

* In the ''Franchise/StarWars'' series, a proton torpedo to the Death Star's reactor causes the entire space station - which is the size of a small moon - to explode like a plastic model full of gunpowder. Although considering the energy output of the thing was enough to blow up an actual planet just as violently, maybe that's not unreasonable.
**
unreasonable. ''Film/RogueOne'' reveals a [[JustifiedTrope justification]]: [[spoiler:Galen Erso, one of the Death Star's chief engineers and Rebel Alliance sympathizer, specifically designed the reactor system to suffer a catastrophic chain reaction when provided with the appropriate trigger.]]
1st Jun '17 8:58:16 AM Dracis
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* In the ''Franchise/StarWars'' series, the Death Star's reactor caused a space station the size of a small moon to explode like a plastic model full of gunpowder. Although considering the energy output of the thing was enough to blow up an actual planet just as violently, maybe that's not unreasonable.

to:

* In the ''Franchise/StarWars'' series, a proton torpedo to the Death Star's reactor caused a causes the entire space station - which is the size of a small moon - to explode like a plastic model full of gunpowder. Although considering the energy output of the thing was enough to blow up an actual planet just as violently, maybe that's not unreasonable.unreasonable.
** ''Film/RogueOne'' reveals a [[JustifiedTrope justification]]: [[spoiler:Galen Erso, one of the Death Star's chief engineers and Rebel Alliance sympathizer, specifically designed the reactor system to suffer a catastrophic chain reaction when provided with the appropriate trigger.]]
30th May '17 11:37:07 PM PaulA
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* ''BlowupsHappen'' is a science fiction short story by Creator/RobertAHeinlein. The story is about a nuclear reactor which not only is in danger of exploding at any moment but is discovered to be capable of [[spoiler:destroying all life on Earth by having such a massive explosion that the Earth's atmosphere is blown away.]]

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* ''BlowupsHappen'' "Blowups Happen" is a science fiction short story by Creator/RobertAHeinlein. The story is about a nuclear reactor which not only is in danger of exploding at any moment but is discovered to be capable of [[spoiler:destroying all life on Earth by having such a massive explosion that the Earth's atmosphere is blown away.]]
3rd May '17 9:49:00 AM crazysamaritan
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What any device called a reactor does. May be called "a meltdown", "destabilizing", "going critical", or something more fanciful.

The failure of an actual nuclear reactor will often be described with the actual term "meltdown", but it will not resemble any meltdown known to science. The resulting explosion will be suspiciously similar to that of an atom bomb, or at least large enough to [[MadeOfExplodium blow the vehicle/facility in question to pieces]]. Alternately, if the main result is a release of radiation, it will be described by a huge red circle on a map. The size and danger level of the circle may suggest even more death than an atom bomb would cause.

Sci-fi reactors are usually based on the idea that a nuclear reactor is a continuous nuclear explosion in a ''really strong'' box. By extension, reactors in the future are a different SealedEvilInACan, just waiting to blow the hell out of everything once the shielding is cracked.

These reactors are almost a ChekhovsGun situation. Calling any device a "reactor" is your cue to expect a spectacular explosion. A drive [[DramaticSpaceDrifting strands a ship in deep space]], a generator subjects characters to an environmental hazard, a reactor removes something from the plot forever.

In real nuclear physics, "critical" simply means the reaction sustains itself. A reactor is critical if it's ''on''. Relatedly, "supercritical" simply means the reaction is increasing in power. An explosive surge of power requires the reactor to go '''''prompt''''' ''critical'' [[note]]"Prompt critical" means the reaction is critical solely from the "prompt" neutrons created by fission events. Since a neutron in flight cannot be controlled by processes working at human time scales, reactors are designed to be critical with the "delayed" neutrons released by subsequent isotope decay. This type of criticality responds to control rods and the like.[[/note]], something that may have happened only once by accident (in the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sl-1 SL-1 reactor accident]] and maybe at Chernobyl, but the consensus is that it was more likely to have been a steam-explosion like an overloaded household water-heater but [[UpToEleven moreso]]). Even in that case, the reactor will explode well before the power output reaches atom bomb levels.
(Designed bombs, on the other hand, go ''[[UpToEleven prompt supercritical]]''.)

To be specific, making a nuclear explosion not only requires compressing a mass of fissile material - something that emphatically does ''not'' happen in a nuclear reactor - but ''keeping it compressed'' for a long enough time, giving the runaway "prompt critical" reaction the time it needs to build up a bang. This is a very exact science: explosive lenses, drivers, and the fissile core have to be fitted perfectly, using machines so precise that they are overkill for polishing glass lenses. If anything is off by the slightest bit, you wind up squirting fissile material out of the spots of weak pressure in the detonation shockwave, which makes a radioactive mess but doesn't make a bang.

Meltdowns are just that - the fissile core ''melts'' into slag, hot enough to flash coolant into steam (wherein you get the associated bang) and possibly melt through the reactor vessel. Since reactors currently in use are designed with safe failure modes in mind (including the famous manually triggered SCRAM), the worst you really get from a land-based reactor meltdown is that the reactor pile becomes a pile of reactor. How bad this gets depends on the reactor's safety features: In a well-designed reactor (e.g. Three Mile Island), you get a reactor vessel full of slag. This slag (charmingly called "corium") is super-hot and super-radioactive; it's when the corium starts melting through safety features that things get really horrible. In both of the worst meltdown incidents, Fukushima and Chernobyl, catastrophic failure was caused by this ongoing damage (a rapid steam explosion that blew the roof off the building in Chernobyl's case, and a build-up of hydrogen over several days that eventually exploded at Fukushima). On a sea vessel, however, the contamination would be [[UpToEleven horrific]]: the reactor mass would come into direct contact with the seawater, and shatter or even be entirely vaporized to small particles (fallout) in the massive subsequent vapour flash explosion.

Radiation ''will'' be an issue inside the facility, but widespread fallout of the kind associated with nuclear war won't be a problem unless the containment systems have been ruptured... which, given that there was probably a steam explosion during the meltdown, they very well could have been and, indeed, in both catastrophic meltdowns that happened in reality, the containment ''was'' breached, resulting in massive contamination. [[note]]In Chernobyl the containment was only partial, built into the reactor structure and destroyed together with it by a steam explosion. The Chernobyl-type reactors had very tall refueling machines, which ruled out full containment. In Fukushima, hot fuel cladding reacted with water and generated hydrogen; the technicians, fearing that the reactor vessels could be ruptured, ''consciously vented'' the built up gases into the containment. Eventually this hydrogen ignited, [[NiceJobBreakingItHero which then breached the containment and allowed the radioactive water (from the desperate attempts to cool the overheating reactors) to freely leak into the ocean.]][[/note]] Long story short, a meltdown is extremely bad news, but orders of magnitude less bad than even small (i.e. tactical) nuclear weapons.

And in case you wondered, a "reactor" is something where a reaction happens. By no means does it ''have'' to be a nuclear reaction, and chemists sometimes use this word as well. But in fiction [[SmallReferencePools it's always nuclear]].

Needless to say, this trope can be considerably more {{justified|Trope}} if you've set your work in a world where the laws of physics are expressly different from those in reality. After all, if the Comicbook/IncredibleHulk [[ILoveNuclearPower can survive a gamma bomb explosion at point blank range without being incinerated and instead be turned into a super-powered behemoth,]] then the laws of nuclear physics are obviously at least ''somewhat'' different than they are in RealLife.

The effect is possibly inspired by magazine and/or steam boiler explosions in ships, forts or industrial facilities. The former generates a [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdrISbwy_zI massive explosions]] after a structure has taken significant damage or suffers a CriticalHit. The latter results from the fact that in a steam power plant the pressure of the steam is what creates the explosive potential and damaging the container unleashes it.

to:

What any device called a reactor does. May be called "a meltdown", "destabilizing", "going critical", or something more fanciful.

The failure of an actual nuclear reactor will often be described with the actual term "meltdown", but it will not resemble any meltdown known to science. The resulting explosion will be suspiciously similar to that of an atom bomb, or at least large enough to [[MadeOfExplodium blow the vehicle/facility in question to pieces]]. Alternately, if the main result is a release of radiation, it will be described by a huge red circle on a map. The size and danger level of the circle may suggest even more death than an atom bomb would cause.

Sci-fi reactors are usually based on the idea that a nuclear reactor is a continuous nuclear explosion in a ''really strong'' box. By extension, Therefore, reactors in the future are a different type of SealedEvilInACan, just waiting to blow the hell out of everything once the shielding is cracked.

These reactors are almost a ChekhovsGun situation.
cracked. Calling any device a "reactor" is your cue to expect a spectacular explosion. A drive [[DramaticSpaceDrifting strands a ship in deep space]], a generator subjects characters to [[ChekhovsGun creates the expectation of an environmental hazard, a reactor removes explosive reaction]]. There are other names that can be used for this event; "meltdown", "destabilizing", "going critical", or something from more fanciful.

In fiction,
the plot forever.

In
word "reactor" seems to mean [[SmallReferencePools exclusively nuclear reactions]], despite the word being common enough in chemistry since "reactor" simply means where a reaction happens. Another contrast between fiction and reality occurs with the term "critical". Fiction uses the word to say "it's going to explode!", whereas real nuclear physics, "critical" simply means the physics use it to say "the reaction sustains itself. A itself", so a reactor is critical if it's ''on''. Relatedly, "supercritical" simply means the reaction is increasing in power. An explosive power, and a surge of power requires the reactor to go '''''prompt''''' ''critical'' [[note]]"Prompt critical" causes "prompt critical", which means the reaction is critical solely from the "prompt" neutrons created by fission events. Since events.[[note]]Since a neutron in flight cannot be controlled by processes working at human time scales, reactors are designed to be critical with the "delayed" neutrons released by subsequent isotope decay. This type of criticality responds to control rods and the like.[[/note]], something that may have happened only once by accident (in once, in the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sl-1 SL-1 reactor accident]] and maybe at Chernobyl, but the consensus is that it was more likely to have been a steam-explosion like an overloaded household water-heater but [[UpToEleven moreso]]). Even in that case, the reactor will explode well before the power output reaches atom bomb levels.
accident]].[[/note]] (Designed bombs, on the other hand, go ''[[UpToEleven "[[UpToEleven prompt supercritical]]''.)

To be specific, making a nuclear
supercritical]]".) Also incorrect is "meltdown", meaning an explosion not only requires compressing a mass of fissile material - something suspiciously similar to that emphatically does ''not'' happen of an atom bomb, or at least large enough to [[MadeOfExplodium blow the vehicle/facility in a question to pieces]]. In real nuclear reactor - but ''keeping it compressed'' for a long enough time, giving the runaway "prompt critical" reaction the time it needs to build up a bang. This is a very exact science: explosive lenses, drivers, and the fissile core have to be fitted perfectly, using machines so precise that they are overkill for polishing glass lenses. If anything is off by the slightest bit, you wind up squirting fissile material out of the spots of weak pressure in the detonation shockwave, which makes a radioactive mess but doesn't make a bang.

Meltdowns
physics, meltdowns are just that - the fissile core ''melts'' into slag, hot enough to flash coolant into steam (wherein you get the associated bang) and possibly melt through the reactor vessel. Since vessel.

All
reactors currently in use are designed with safe failure modes in mind (including the famous manually triggered SCRAM), mind; the worst you really get from a land-based reactor meltdown failing is that the reactor pile becomes a pile of reactor. How bad this gets depends on the reactor's safety features: In a well-designed reactor (e.g. Three Mile Island), you get a reactor vessel container full of slag. This slag (charmingly called "corium") is "corium"; super-hot and super-radioactive; it's when super-radioactive. The famous disasters are caused by the corium starts melting through safety features that things get really horrible. In both of the worst meltdown incidents, Fukushima and Chernobyl, catastrophic failure was caused by this ongoing damage (a rapid steam explosion that blew the roof off the building in Chernobyl's case, and a build-up of hydrogen over several days that eventually exploded at Fukushima). features. On a sea vessel, however, the contamination would be [[UpToEleven horrific]]: horrific]]; the reactor mass would come into direct contact with the seawater, and shatter or even be entirely vaporized to small particles (fallout) in the massive subsequent vapour flash explosion.

explosion. Radiation ''will'' be an issue inside the facility, but and widespread fallout of the kind associated with nuclear war won't be a problem unless only occur when the containment systems have been ruptured... which, given that there was probably a steam explosion during the meltdown, they very well could have been and, indeed, in both catastrophic meltdowns that happened in reality, the containment ''was'' breached, resulting in massive contamination. [[note]]In Chernobyl the containment was only partial, built into the reactor structure and destroyed together with it by a steam explosion. The Chernobyl-type reactors had very tall refueling machines, which ruled out full containment. In Fukushima, hot fuel cladding reacted with water and generated hydrogen; the technicians, fearing that the reactor vessels could be ruptured, ''consciously vented'' the built up gases into the containment. Eventually this hydrogen ignited, [[NiceJobBreakingItHero which then breached the containment and allowed the radioactive water (from the desperate attempts to cool the overheating reactors) to freely leak into the ocean.]][[/note]] ruptured. Long story short, a meltdown is extremely bad news, but orders of magnitude less bad than even small (i.e. tactical) nuclear weapons.

And in case you wondered, a "reactor" is something where a reaction happens. By no means does it ''have'' to be a nuclear reaction, and chemists sometimes use this word as well. But in fiction [[SmallReferencePools it's always nuclear]].

Needless to say, this trope can be considerably more {{justified|Trope}} if you've set your work in a world where the laws of physics are expressly different from those in reality. After all, if the Comicbook/IncredibleHulk [[ILoveNuclearPower can survive a gamma bomb explosion at point blank range without being incinerated and instead be turned into a super-powered behemoth,]] then the laws of nuclear physics are obviously at least ''somewhat'' different than they are in RealLife.

The effect is possibly inspired by magazine and/or steam boiler explosions in ships, forts or industrial facilities. The former generates a [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdrISbwy_zI massive explosions]] after a structure has taken significant damage or suffers a CriticalHit. The latter results from the fact that in a steam power plant the pressure of the steam is what creates the explosive potential and damaging the container unleashes it.
weapons.
8th Mar '17 10:21:48 AM nombretomado
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* Used to a degree in the course of the later games in the ''VideoGame/MechWarrior'' series, 3 and 4 to be precise. Previous games had Mechs either explode into pieces or be rendered a standing but inert corpse (most likely as a limitation of the early game engines). 3, however, first introduced dramatic [[OverHeating heat induced deaths]]. One might expect the normal death animation to play where the 'Mech catches fire, its torso goes up in flames, and it falls over amid a shower of ruined internal structures spewing from the machine. Not so. Instead, a Mech destroyed by excess heat goes up in a highly damaging ''mushroom cloud,'' [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q53tQKt7Uog almost certainly invoking this trope.]] MechWarrior 4 simply had every destroyed Mech spew streams of blue-white light from its core as it fell, before exploding into chunky rubble loosely resembling the original chassis.

to:

* Used to a degree in the course of the later games in the ''VideoGame/MechWarrior'' series, 3 and 4 to be precise. Previous games had Mechs either explode into pieces or be rendered a standing but inert corpse (most likely as a limitation of the early game engines). 3, however, first introduced dramatic [[OverHeating heat induced deaths]]. One might expect the normal death animation to play where the 'Mech catches fire, its torso goes up in flames, and it falls over amid a shower of ruined internal structures spewing from the machine. Not so. Instead, a Mech destroyed by excess heat goes up in a highly damaging ''mushroom cloud,'' [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q53tQKt7Uog almost certainly invoking this trope.]] MechWarrior [=MechWarrior=] 4 simply had every destroyed Mech spew streams of blue-white light from its core as it fell, before exploding into chunky rubble loosely resembling the original chassis.
16th Feb '17 3:50:55 AM Morgenthaler
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* Used to a degree in the course of the later games in the ''MechWarrior'' series, 3 and 4 to be precise. Previous games had Mechs either explode into pieces or be rendered a standing but inert corpse (most likely as a limitation of the early game engines). 3, however, first introduced dramatic [[OverHeating heat induced deaths]]. One might expect the normal death animation to play where the 'Mech catches fire, its torso goes up in flames, and it falls over amid a shower of ruined internal structures spewing from the machine. Not so. Instead, a Mech destroyed by excess heat goes up in a highly damaging ''mushroom cloud,'' [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q53tQKt7Uog almost certainly invoking this trope.]] MechWarrior 4 simply had every destroyed Mech spew streams of blue-white light from its core as it fell, before exploding into chunky rubble loosely resembling the original chassis.

to:

* Used to a degree in the course of the later games in the ''MechWarrior'' ''VideoGame/MechWarrior'' series, 3 and 4 to be precise. Previous games had Mechs either explode into pieces or be rendered a standing but inert corpse (most likely as a limitation of the early game engines). 3, however, first introduced dramatic [[OverHeating heat induced deaths]]. One might expect the normal death animation to play where the 'Mech catches fire, its torso goes up in flames, and it falls over amid a shower of ruined internal structures spewing from the machine. Not so. Instead, a Mech destroyed by excess heat goes up in a highly damaging ''mushroom cloud,'' [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q53tQKt7Uog almost certainly invoking this trope.]] MechWarrior 4 simply had every destroyed Mech spew streams of blue-white light from its core as it fell, before exploding into chunky rubble loosely resembling the original chassis.
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