->''"Last night {{UsefulNotes/Chernobyl}} nuclear power plant fulfilled the Five Year Plan for heat energy generation in four microseconds."''
-->-- '''[[RussianHumour Russian joke]]'''

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.

See also ContainmentField. When a reactor "goes critical" but is then turned off with no consequences, it's InstantCooldown.


[[AC:Nuclear Reactors]]


* ''Series/AftermathPopulationZero'': Because the presently active nuclear power plants across the globe are no longer being manned after humanity's disappearance, it's only a matter of time before they go into nuclear meltdown. Whole regions are turned into death zones for decades to come for any animals trying to survive.


[[folder: Fan Works]]
* Averted in ''FanFic/HeroesOfTheDeskRepercussions''--a US supercarrier is sunk in shallow water but [[RealityEnsues the Navy gets the situation under control]]. Of course, since this trope exists, some people panic anyway even though nothing bad happens.

[[folder: Film - Animated ]]

* In ''WesternAnimation/PinocchioInOuterSpace'', an ancient Martian nuclear plant explodes like an A-bomb (complete with mushroom cloud).


[[folder: Film - Live Action ]]

* In the Film/JamesBond movie ''Film/TheWorldIsNotEnough'', TheDragon Renard attempts to turn the reactor in a nuclear sub critical by inserting a rod of weapons grade plutonium. In the bare reactor. With nothing more than a shirt protecting him from hard radiation. Granted, he wasn't expecting to survive the act, but Bond is there with him. This might be slightly forgivable given that the intent was to contaminate the whole area, not necessarily blow it to hell. Of course, nobody except Dr. Jones actually understands how inserting the weapons grade plutonium into the reactor would cause an 'instant, catastrophic meltdown'.
* ''Film/TheSwarm'' had a bunch of killer bees turn a nuclear power plant into a nuclear bomb in less than a minute, somehow.
* At the end of ''Film/ResidentEvilApocalypse'', Raccoon City in its entirety was destroyed by a tactical nuclear missile in an attempt to wipe out the T-virus outbreak. Later on, there are news broadcasts shown with evidence recorded by the protagonists discredited. One reporter even made the statement that a nearby nuclear reactor exploded by "going critical."
* In ''Film/TheDarkKnightRises'', a physicist finds a way to turn nuclear fusion reactors into multi-megaton nuclear bombs by making them "go critical". Not only is it completely impossible in real life to do so, but the process (supposed to be complicated enough that the physicist is the only person in the world to understand it) takes at most a few minutes, on a reactor design he has no way of being familiar with, and afterwards you can extract the "core" (whatever it is) from the reactor and use it as a highly portable nuclear bomb that can't be defused. Awesome, really.
* In ''Film/{{Godzilla 2014}}'', the male Muto played a major role in the Janjira disaster. [[spoiler:A possible subversion in this case, because the story of the Janjira reactor going critical was all part of the coverup to hide their existence.]]
* 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}}''.
* ''Film/Holocaust2000'': Robert's company is working on building a new type of nuclear power plant in the Middle East that could provide energy for the entire Third World. The project garners masses of protestors because it could end up causing a meltdown that would result in nuclear stockpiles all over the world blowing up ([[ArtisticLicenceNuclearPhysics exactly how this would work is never addressed]]).

[[folder: Literature ]]

* Made a JustifiedTrope with the ultimate killer of most defeated starships in ''Literature/HonorHarrington''. It turns out that 41st century fusion reactors keep their plasma fusing by the "simple" expedient of compressing them to stellar pressures using a gravity-based ContainmentField. This makes for reactors that produce much greater output than more traditional fusion reactor designs, as per several {{infodump}}s in various places. However, the nasty side effect is that even though a breached fusion reactor instantly stops reacting (just as in a real-life fusion reactor), the ''pre-existing'' heat and pressure still make a truly satisfying kablooey.
* Averted in the novel ''Literature/TheHuntForRedOctober'': fatigue-induced failure of an important valve in the cooling system for the reactor of a Russian submarine causes a meltdown in its reactor, which in turn creates a glob of radioactive slag that melts its way through the bottom of the sub, eventually sinking it.
* Discussed in Creator/MikhailAkhmanov's ''[[Literature/ArrivalsFromTheDark Invasion]]'' by the three admirals of the [[SpaceNavy United Space Forces]] in the wake of the ''Lark''[='s=] disappearance. The official story is that the cruiser's reactor experienced a meltdown and destroyed the ship. However, the admirals discuss the possibility and list three cases of reactor exploding in outer space and cite that those were either obsolete reactors on non-USF ships or the result of micrometeorites damaging the cooling systems. Played straight during the Battle of the Martian Orbit, when one USF cruiser is described as being destroyed, when her armor was punched through by an AntiMatter blast that impacted the reactor chamber. However, even if the reactor didn't explode, the anti-matter would've destroyed the ship anyway.


[[folder: Live Action TV ]]
* ''Series/KnightRider 2008'', "Knight of the Iguana". According to KITT and Doctor Graiman, being hit by the Stolen Military Uber-Missile of the week will cause a California nuclear power plant to explode -- complete with [[UsefulNotes/NuclearWeapons the Deadliest Mushroom]], turning into a giant atomic bomb. Mind you, it may have been their intent that this have something to do with the specific and unusual nature of the missile used. But it's more likely just that this show plays hard and fast with the laws of physics.
* In the ''Series/{{Torchwood}}'' episode "Exit Wounds", a bunch of bombs went off, causing all electricity to cease, which caused a reactor to go critical. In cooling it down, [[spoiler: Owen died.]]
** The reactor pretty much had the same thing happen to it that the reactors in Fukushima did. The meltdown wasn't the unrealistic part. The unrealistic part was where Owen fiddled with controls (somehow flooding the control room with radioactive coolant) and safely shutting down the reactor. This episode probably belongs under ''InstantCooldown''.
* ''Series/EdgeOfDarkness'' has probably the most realistic depiction of a criticality event in any fictional work not directly based on a real one. It's outside a reactor, though.

[[folder: Music ]]
* The music video of the song "Dancing with Tears in my Eyes" by the band Ultravox features a nuclear power plant accident which should result in an explosion according to some warning signs. The explosion is implied to even hit a house which is in a rather large distance to the power plant. (And killing the family of the plant worker which is the protagonist of the video.)

[[folder: Pinball ]]
* One of the missions in ''[[VideoGame/ProPinballTheWeb Pro Pinball: The Web]]'' requires stopping a runaway nuclear reactor.
* The "Meltdown" mode in ''Pinball/JudgeDredd'' also requires stopping a runaway reactor.
* The main playfield toy of ''[[Pinball/OperationThunder Operation: Thunder]]'' is a Domed Power Plant; players must shoot balls inside it to strike all of the targets and make it explode.

[[folder: Video Games ]]
* In ''VideoGame/SyphonFilterLogansShadow'', one level has you aboard a recently sunk nuclear powered navy ship with the nuclear reactor about to "go critical" forcing you to hurry and shut it down by removing the fuel rods instead of inserting control rods as would be done in reality.
* The eponymous house in ''ManiacMansion'' was powered by a nuclear reactor which could explode if it overheated, if the house's power was turned off and the reactor short-circuited, or if the player pressed the [[SchmuckBait big]] [[DontTouchItYouIdiot red]] [[BigRedButton button]] in the pool. Probably {{Justified|Trope}} by the fact that the reactor is extremely poorly constructed due to the BigBad having a serious budget problem, to the point where he has to use ''his swimming pool'' to cool the fuel rods.
* ''VideoGame/{{Portal 2}}'': The Aperture Science Enrichment Center's nuclear reactor spends, all together, well over half the game either going critical or warning you that it's about to go critical.
* A major event midway through VisualNovel/AnalogueAHateStory. When it starts, you're given an ExactTimeToFailure of twenty minutes, and it's made pretty clear that this is not enough time to get out of the blast radius, despite the PlayerCharacter being in pretty much the best possible position to be doing so.
* ''VideoGame/{{Bioforge}}'': Stopping a moonbase nuclear reactor from meltdown is one of the things you've got to do.
* In ''VideoGame/{{Fallout 2}}'', the Enclave Oil Rig's reactor goes up in a big nuclear explosion.
* ''VideoGame/{{Hatred}}'' has you [[spoiler:''causing'' one of these at a nuclear power plant in the final sequence of the game, with the aid of two bundles of C4 explosive stolen from a military base]].

[[folder: Webcomics ]]

* {{Justified|Trope}} in ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance'' when Riff's "[[http://sluggy.com/daily.php?date=000610 Mini Fission Comrade]]" starts to have a meltdown.
-->'''Tech Support:''' Now sir, what's ''really'' the difference between a personal fission reactor and a refurbished old Soviet Union black-market suitcase-nuke?
* Played realistically in an arc of ''Webcomic/{{SSDD}}'' where a heavily sabotaged fission reactor is about to meltdown. The main risk is stated to be the radioactive and very hot water flooding the ship's decks.
-> ''Surviving technician: "All you need to do is hit the scram button, its got this [[BigRedButton big red cover over it]]."''
-> ''Julian: (holds up button that was clearly ripped out) "You mean this?"''
-> ''Tech: "Yeah, that's it. [[OhCrap Shit]]"''.


[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* ''WesternAnimation/GIJoeResolute'' does the above too, where Cobra has turned a number of nukes into a reactor. Scarlett has no idea how they did that.
* Pretty much any accident or potential accident involving the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant on ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'' is portrayed as a nuclear explosion, including one where Professor Frink projected everyone in a large radius would be killed instantly.
** In the episode "Homer Defined," the reactor begins to go critical, and Homer (of course) does ''not'' remember his training for what to do during this very event. He picks a button at random with "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo"...and luckily for him, that's the button to initiate the SCRAM procedure. Everyone makes him out to be a hero, but he feels guilty because it was nothing more than a FelixCulpa.
** Another episode "King-Sized Homer" had Homer gain weight so he could be considered morbidly obese enough to work from home. But then he decides to go see a movie, leaving a drinking bird in charge of the computer...which fails, and he has to go to the plant to stop the meltdown. [[spoiler: He nearly falls to his death trying to press the manual shutdown button, but [[NoOneCouldSurviveThat falls into a gas vent pipe]], shutting down the reactor and preventing the release of radioactive gas by plugging the hole he fell into with his girth.]]
*** Earlier in that episode, Homer's computer asks "Vent radioactive gas?", when Homer responds no the computer insists "Venting prevents explosion." Which becomes a FunnyAneurysmMoment when in Fukushima reactor technicians did ''exactly that''. And it still [[ShaggyDogStory didn't prevent the explosion]].
** In one episode, Homer triggered a meltdown in a simulator. [[EpicFail It had no nuclear material with which to accomplish this.]]


[[AC:Sci-fi reactors]]

[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]
* Justified in ''Anime/MobileSuitGundam'' and its subsequent sequels where Mobile Suits are powered by [[MinovskyPhysics Minovsky Particle]] reactors -- which explode when hit by [[EnergyWeapon beam weapons]], but not if they're destroyed by conventional ordinance (In ''Anime/MobileSuitGundamF91'' the Shot Lancer is a weapon invented specifically to be able to hit a suit's reactor without making it go up). This became a major plot element in episodes of ''Victory Gundam'' and ''The 08th MS Team''. However, there are some instances of explosions that are just plain silly.
* Nicely averted in ''Manga/CannonGodExaxxion''; one particularly graphic scene features fusion-powered machinery that has been damaged by an explosion. Instead of blowing up real good, the stuff starts leaking hot plasma & horrifically burning anybody who gets near it.
* Third-generation Arm Slaves in ''LightNovel/FullMetalPanic'' are said to use palladium reactors (older ones run on diesel/gas turbines). Judging from the Helmajistan ambush, these things pack quite a punch. One might even mistake the self-destructing Codarl at the end of the first season as a meltdown but he explicitly states that he packed a few hundred kilos of high explosive to make sure he can pull off a TakingYouWithMe. On the other hand, the onboard AI warned him that if he starts the sequence, there's no cancelling it. So he might have gone for a straight overload spiced with some extra HE for a bigger boom.
** Palladium reactors are a real-life contraptions — they were proposed as vessels for the ([[ScienceMarchesOn sadly debunked]]) cold fusion. The fusion being cold, their best effort in blowing up probably would've been no more than a tank worth of gas. Enough to kill a person, but really nothing to write home about.
* This happened to Precia's {{Mana}} reactor in the backstory of ''Anime/MagicalGirlLyricalNanoha'', although the movie shows that this mainly happened because corporate executives [[IgnoredExpert took her out of the decision making process]] and pushed for it to be used [[UnfinishedUntestedUsedAnyway before the safety measures were fully tested]].


[[folder: Comic Books ]]

* In an issue of Franchise/TheDCU comic book miniseries ''ComicBook/IdentityCrisis'', [[spoiler:ComicBook/{{Firestorm}}]] is skewered by a sword, and is told to fly off for the safety of others as "everybody knows what happens if you puncture a reactor".


[[folder: Fan Works]]
* 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.]]
* As in its source material, the titular starship's dark matter drive explodes in ''FanFic/AuroraFalls.''


[[folder: Film - Live Action ]]

* 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.
* The arc reactor in ''Film/IronMan1'' isn't nuclear (in fact, it's safe enough that Tony Stark can walk around with a miniature one implanted in his chest), but under the right circumstances, can be triggered to produce a very satisfying boom.
* In ''Film/GalaxyQuest'', the reactor of the NSEA Protector is approaching a core meltdown while under attack. [[{{Cliffhanger}} We don't get to see what happens next]].

[[folder: Literature ]]

* ''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.]]
* We also see this in ''TabletopGame/BattleTech'' fiction, where [=BattleMechs=] are routinely powered by fusion engines that sometimes explode from taking sufficient damage -- the explosion isn't actually described as of nuke-caliber, but ''can'' inflict quite some damage on anything nearby. One rulebooks hangs a lampshade on this by patiently explaining (as part of a in-universe lecture on 'Mech systems) that such explosions are not, in fact, nuclear. Just how much more plausible the suggested alternative of air rushing into the breached reaction chamber, promptly getting heated up to several thousand degrees, and ''thereby'' causing the observed 'fireball' is a mystery.
** "Stackpoling" is the term in the fandom for a Battlemech's reactor doing this, due to author Michael Stackpole using this trope repeatedly in his novels.
* As part of a military operation in one of the ''Literature/NewJediOrder'' novels, Admiral Kre'fey programs the reactor on a decommissioned and unmanned Interdictor cruiser to go supercritical once its shields go below 20%. Justified in that it was intentional, and also possibly justified because most ships in the ''Franchise/StarWars'' galaxy use hypermatter reactors, which work by technobabble.[[note]]Supposedly they forcibly pull tachyons out of hyperspace, which makes them self-annihilate.[[/note]]


[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* In ''Franchise/StarTrek'', most reactors contain anti-matter. Should the containment fail, the anti-matter would contact normal matter. This results in a massive explosion. Aside from the Romulans (see below), the Borg are the only race who don't use M/AM reactors for power. Their power sources run on pure technobabble, it seems.
** The Romulans in ''Star Trek'' use captured quantum singularities (black holes). Whether matter/antimatter is safer or not is something of a moot point.
** In addition to the anti-matter used in warp reactors, impulse (STL) drives are fusion-powered. Apparently, their containment systems are a ''lot'' better than what the FTL drives use, as impulse reactors never seem to explode (unless deliberately rigged)...
*** Fusion powered reactors can't blow up. However—depending on the design—if they lose containment on the plasma, it will escape. Generally the reaction will cease, since every form of fusion needs to put the plasma under massive pressure...but the plasma might well vaporize the ship as it escapes.
*** In "The Doomsday Machine" (episode of ''Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries''), Scotty jury-rigs the badly damaged U.S.S. ''Constellation'' so that its impulse drive can function. He says repeatedly that keeping it from exploding is taking all of his effort.
* Discussed and averted in the ''Series/StargateSG1'' episode "Learning Curve." When a prototype naquadah reactor is powered up, it causes a harmless distortion which sets off an alarm.
-->'''Hammond:''' In the future, Major, before you activate any device that includes the word "reactor," I would appreciate it if you would notify me.
** Of course, a bunch of later naquadah reactors explode, however they're almost always intentionally rigged to blow, like a real nuclear reactor. Naquadriah on the other hand is extremely unstable and explodes at the drop of a hat.
* ''Series/StargateAtlantis'', "Trinity": The team discovers [[spoiler:the Ancient equivalent of the Manhattan Project.]] Rodney tries to make it work, but it fails miserably.
-->'''Weir:''' You destroyed three-quarters of a solar system!\\
'''[=McKay=]:''' Five-sixths, but it's not an exact science.
** It becomes a Running Gag:
--->'''Lt. Col. Sheppard:''' It took Dr. Mc Kay years to figure out all things Ancient and he still doesn't completely understand.\\
'''Dr. Mc Kay:''' ''(defensively)'' I have a very firm grasp of Ancient technology.\\
'''Lt. Col. Sheppard:''' You've blown up entire planets, Rodney.\\
'''Dr. Mc Kay:''' That wasn't my fault!\\
'''Lt. Col. Sheppard:''' Well, it didn't do it by itself!
* ''Series/BabylonFive'' has exploding fusion reactors.


[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* In ''TabletopGame/BattleTech'', Battlemechs with their fusion reactor shielding shot out don't explode at all, unless you're playing with optional rules to make it more 'cinematic' - though even then, the explosion is more or less like a boiler explosion than a nuclear explosion. The real explosion danger comes from ammunition explosions, from either a stray laser blowing up all your autocannon rounds, or the heat of your engine causing the ammo to 'cook off'. The amount of ammo involved usually means this will gut your 'mech. Even the humble machinegun, the weakest ballistic weapon in the game, carries at minimum a half-ton of ammo and will ruin anything that is carrying it if that ammo lights up. This adds to the competitive balance: Energy weapons fail gracefully if hit (so the only way to stop a laser-boat quickly is by [[BoomHeadshot managing to hit the cockpit]], failing that, you're going to have to [[WhyWontYouDie keep walloping]] away at it.) but promote overheating. Missile and autocannon weapons have high strength to weight, but there's always the possibility of [[GlassCannon instant death]] by [[CriticalHit lucky shot]].
** Something like this trope is invoked with Gauss weaponry. The ammo is just an inert metal slug, but the capacitors that power the gun's electromagnets are prone to catastrophic explosion if they get hit.
* In ''TabletopGame/{{Mindjammer}}'' Zip (zero-point energy) reactors tend to explode when heavily damaged. Especially the improvised ones used by the Venu Empire, the Commonality has developed a weapon specifically to destabilize their reactors.


[[folder: Video Games ]]
* In ''VideoGame/HaloCombatEvolved'', the eponymous ring, large enough to have its own ecosystem, is broken into pieces by throwing 4 grenades into a starship's engine containment field. The term used to describe it is "Wildcat destabilization". In reality, a fusion reactor can't go critical; rather than going out of control, the reaction just ''stops''. However, if, while the reaction is still functioning properly, one were to remove whatever is holding it in place (probably a magnetic field — the hotter fusion rockets would have to use those, rather than something made of matter, because even diamonds would vaporize on contact with the plasma), it would vaporize everything within a very large radius. Of course, it's unlikely one would have the time to get away before that happened.
* 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.
** {{Justified|Trope}}: The Combine forces were very specifically ''trying'' to get the dark matter reactor to explode.
* 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.
** The Trope is invoked by name in the opening cutscene of ''[=MechWarrior=] 3'' as well, [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm76b8tzzWI#t=1m52s here.]] The resulting explosion's shockwave evokes comparisons to nukes proper, or at least is so violent that it flattens buildings for a considerable radius and convinces the pilot of a 100-ton Assault Mech to [[EjectionSeat get out of there in a mighty big hurry.]]
** The second game of the series did it too. There were no huge balls of blue light or mushroom clouds, but the killed mech would be torn apart by a series of fairly small explosions, implied to be caused by weapons ''and'' the reactor. Stepping into the mess would cause damage to your Mech's legs.
** The ''[[VideoGame/{{Crysis}} Crysis Warhead]]'' [[GameMod mod]], ''[=MechWarrior=] Living Legends'', takes the critical explosions of the previous games up to eleven - when a mech goes critical (20% chance when destroyed), it glows white while a low sound builds up, then explodes in a huge, [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNFeE8mIlxQ&t=1m42s blindingly white mushroom cloud]], stirring up dust which obstructs the battlefield. Any [[PoweredArmor battlearmor]] nearby either get gibbed or have their [[DiegeticInterface heads up display]] [[InterfaceScrew scrambled]] from the electromagnetic pulse.
* Element Zero core meltdowns are shown to be quite spectacular in ''VideoGame/MassEffect2: The Arrival''. When the cooling system of an "after-market eezo core" was deactivated it could detonate with enough energy to destroy a small planet; and a Mass Relay's core being destroyed has an effect comparable to a supernova.
** ''VideoGame/MassEffect1'' got there first. On Virmire, the Salarian [=STGs=] make a bomb out of their ship's eezo core with about the same yield as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
* This is the goal of the easy path's penultimate level in ''VideoGame/StarFox64''. The mission is to destroy the core of the Venom defense satellite "Bolse" to make the whole satellite explode. Interestingly, the [[AllThereInTheManual source material]] claims that the core uses Andross' trademark bio-mutated energy alongside traditional Nuclear power, explaining why Bolse explodes so spectacularly when you succeed in destroying it.
* Ironically averted in ''VideoGame/MetroidFusion''. For a series with so many [[EarthShatteringKaboom catastrophic countdowns]], the main reactor-related emergencies in Fusion aren't explosive. In the first instance, the cooling systems in the high-temperature habitat are deliberately shut down, risking a ''boiler'' explosion; in the second, vines invade the reactor and SCRAM it. The later [[EarthShatteringKaboom destruction of the station]] is caused deliberately by [[ColonyDrop running it into the nearby planet.]]
* There are quite a few in ''VideoGame/DukeNukem3D’’.
* VideoGame/{{Subnautica}} has the spaceship Aurora’s dark-matter reactor, which explodes, [[spoiler: releasing lethal radiation and requiring you to fix the reactor, or be overcome by radiation.]]


[[folder: Web Comics ]]

* ''WebComic/SchlockMercenary'':
** Reactors work through neutronium (extremely dense matter, held together by its own gravity) annihilation, which are usually kept controlled by their reactor AI and multiple fail-safes, including an auto-shutdown feature that stops the reactions and turns the reactor into an inert ball of neutronium. While hard to do and usually impractical (to the degree that killing the rest of the ship first is usually quicker and safer), cracking an 'annie-plant' is possible and happens several times during the comic, leading to a pile of evaporating, ''very'' explosive neutronium. This, however, is peanuts compared to what happens if the reactor AI decides to ''actively'' go in for using the plant as a conversion bomb.
--->'''Tagon:''' The base's annie-plant blew. That distinctive "skoom" noise would be the pile evaporating.\\
'''Pranger:''' Do you mean to tell me that you've been close enough to ''hear'' an annie-plant go up?\\
'''Tagon:''' Twice in the past three months. Remind me to tell you about my short, furry employer.\\
'''Pranger:''' I'll buy the beer, Captain. I'll buy the beer.
** Not to mention that Sgt. Schlock's fusion-powered plasguns tend to explode at the drop of a hat.
* In ''Webcomic/{{SSDD}}'' the backpack fusion reactors in Black Rose {{Plasma Cannon}}s explode so often they have a rep for killing more friendlies than enemies. However it's explained that ship-sized reactors are perfectly safe, when a backpack reactor's containment is breached the plasma licks the walls and superheats them, larger reactors have enough space for it to dissipate harmlessly.


[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* In ''WesternAnimation/TheBatman'' episode "White Heat", when Firefly absorbed a large amount of radiation. Batman said a meltdown ''wouldn't'' be a nuclear explosion because he didn't absorb enough radiation, he would just let out enough heat and radiation to destroy most of Gotham. Then he tried to use it to set off an actual nuclear reactor.
* In ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheAnimatedSeries'', Baby Doll rigs the power plant to explode by shutting down the coolant and regulators.