Scientists from the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency recently announced that they intend to conduct a controlled nuclear meltdown in order to learn how to prevent another Fukushima-scale disaster from occurring. Using a scaled-down reactor, the team hopes their (slightly alarming) research will help to improve on current methods for dealing with such a disaster.

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While the notion of intentionally forcing a nuclear meltdown might sound terrifying, it should be noted that most countries with major nuclear power facilities—US included—have conducted similar studies in the past. Japan’s experiment will take place sometime later this year at a research facility in Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, where the scientists will deliberately cause a meltdown using a “small fuel rod in a very rapid fission process,” according to NBC News.

Speaking to the AFP, a spokesperson for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency explained “We want to study exactly how meltdowns happen and apply what we will learn to help improve ways to deal with severe accidents in the future,” research which could prove paramount if Japan continues to pursue nuclear power.

In the 2011 Fukushima disaster, a combined earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power plant claimed over 18,000 lives. The meltdown at Fukushima sent radioactive water spewing into the Pacific Ocean and led to the establishment of a 20 km exclusion zone around the facility. In the months and years following the disaster, there has been a steady succession of accidents at the power plant as operator Tepco struggle to maintain their beleaguered reactors.

In in the initial months following the triple disaster, Japan moved quickly to bring nuclear reactors across the country offline, as national confidence in the safety of the technology crashed. In September of last year, Japan’s last functioning nuclear reactor was taken offline. But there is no certainty that this will prove to be a permanent solution – indeed, several nuclear power plants have already petitioned to be allowed to resume operation under enhanced security measures.

Via NBC News