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In Star Trek: Generations, it was this very thing that destroyed the stardrive section of the Enterprise-D. As soon as LaForge recognized that a coolant leak had occurred, he evacuated Engineering immediately and reported to the bridge that a warp core overload was inevitable and irreparable. Yet in the very next film, Star Trek: First Contact, Picard suggests (and Data supports) causing a massive coolant leak in order to eradicate the Borg infestation there.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Two reasons come to mind:

  • In Star Trek: Generations, the engines were hot because of the just completed Battle of Veridian III. In Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise had been quietly orbiting Earth for some time. Cold engines are presumably in less need of coolant.

  • The Enterprise-E was an upgraded ship compared to the Enterprise-D; it is not unlikely that some of the changes were intended to mitigate the warp core breach problem that had destroyed the Enterprise-D. In fact, we can see that the Enterprise-E has two plasma coolant tanks in main engineering. Only one was damaged; perhaps that redundancy prevented any core breach.

It is reassuring that my thoughts are echoed by the article on plasma coolant in the Memory Alpha wiki.

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Picard clearly says that they're goal should be to puncture "one of the plasma coolant tanks". If there's anything that Starfleet (and actual, modern-day space travel) is about, it's redundancy in ship systems.

Combining that the ship was in a low-functioning condition, there was at least one other visible, intact coolant tank, and that there are plausibly automatic computer protocols in place to ratchet down warp core activity to acclimate to the lower cooling potential.

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