Fukushima might be worse than Chernobyl


damaged reactors no. 1 and 3 of  Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Japan’s nuclear crisis appears to be spiraling out of control. “This is a slow-moving nightmare,” said Dr. Thomas Neff, a physicist and uranium industry analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Emperor Akihito described the crisis in his country as “unprecedented in scale”. The radiation level is increasing day by day. So far 315 thousand residents of Fukushima and nearby areas are spending cold nights at evacuation areas. Should our worst fear realize could this be worse than Chernobyl?

The accident that happened in Chernobyl plant near the town of Pripryat in Ukraine, then part of the USSR on April 26, 1986 is considered the worst accident in nuclear history and is categorized under level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale. It occurred because of operator’s error on what was supposed to be a routine system test, a series of mistakes that which have led to the tragedy.

The crisis in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that is unfolding now is a result of a series of natural disaster, first a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, followed by a raging tsunami. The generators that should have supported the emergency cooling system failed to work after having been immersed in water. This had caused the overheating of the fuel rods.

The containment that is made to protect the core from being exposed to the environment have suffered damages from the explosions in the past few days. Is it still capable of serving its purpose?  Maybe not.

The company that is manufacturing the containment vessel of the reactors is GE .  Dale Bridenbaugh, a former GE electric engineer, revealed in an interview with CNN that he resigned from the company 35 years ago due to safety concerns over the containment design. (Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's reactors were commissioned from 1971 to 1978. It is one of the oldest nuclear facility in Japan.) 

Graphite which is combustible was responsible for the fire in Chernobyl. Based on the absence of this material on the Japanese reactors experts are saying that there cannot be a repeat of Chernobyl here. Nonetheless, it might not have graphite but it has caesium. This element is highly-pyrophoric. It ignites when combined with water. Hence the chain of violent hydrogen gas explosions that that have caused leakage of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

The effect of the Chernobyl accident was enormous. According to World Health Organization the radiation release from the Chernobyl accident was 200 times that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Large areas of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus had been contaminated with radiation. Moreover, the radioactive fallout extended beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. Except for the Iberian Peninsula, increased amount of radiation had been detected all over Europe. Over 336,000 people were displaced. Among the 600 emergency workers who mitigated the fire, 134 suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS). 28 of the fatalities were attributed to ARS, 2 from the immediate explosion. Increased thyroid cancer incidence was noted. According to the 2006 report of the UN Chernobyl Forum's 'Health' Expert Group about 4000 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in children and adolescents (0–18 years) from1992 to 2000, in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. After the disaster, four square kilometers of pine forest in the immediate vicinity of the reactor turned reddish-brown and died, earning the name of the "Red Forest". Some animals in the worst-hit areas also died or stopped reproducing.

In Chernobyl’s case was only one reactor malfunctioned. At Fukushima plants four reactors are in trouble.  In the advent of simultaneous and complete meltdown of the cores of these reactors, that would be Chernobyl fourfold.  That is simply unimaginable. Let’s cross our fingers it won’t happen.

References:
  1. Caesium. Wikipedia 
  2. Chernobyl Disaster. Wikipedia 
  3. Chernobyl Accident. World Nuclear Association 

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2 Response to Fukushima might be worse than Chernobyl

March 18, 2011 at 1:10 AM

The Philippine govt. should think twice in the reconstruction of the Bataan nuclear plant after what had happened in Japan.

April 13, 2011 at 9:06 AM

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