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Comparing The Fukushima and Chernobyl Nuclear Disasters

April 26, 2011

As Ukraine marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, it is ironic that the world has experienced yet another nuclear disaster; Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. Although, it is yet to be seen whether or not, the magnitude of the Fukushima plant disaster will match that of the Chernobyl disaster; the two disasters seem to be very different, in terms of the cause and design. The only similarities seem to be the impact that both disasters have caused to the environment and the population living around the affected areas.

Of great significance is the upgrading of the Fukushima incident to level 7, the most severe rating on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Chernobyl happens to be the only other nuclear disaster that reached level 7 in history. This is an indicator of how rapidly the situation is deteriorating, and the serious effects that can be anticipated locally.

The differences between the Fukushima disaster and Chernobyl are very many. First, the Fukushima incident was caused by an act of nature; following the massive earthquake that hit Japan’s coastline, and the subsequent tsunami. The Chernobyl incident, on the other hand, was as a result of human error, in that the design of the nuclear plant’s design was flawed, on one hand, and an operator made a mistake when attempting an emergency power shutdown.

The second difference is that with Chernobyl, a large cloud of radioactive graphite was released into the atmosphere, which spread as far as Belarus and Russia. On its part, the Fukushima plant did not release any radioactive cloud, owing to the fact that the nuclear plant is water cooled as opposed to using graphite, as was the case with the Chernobyl plant. Instead, low-level radioactive waste water that was used for cooling the plant was released into the ocean.

Third, the Chernobyl accident was sudden with the plant being rocked by several explosions. This led to several fatalities instantly, and in the days that followed. Several other indirect deaths followed months and years later, with thousands suffering from various terminal illnesses. Unfortunately, the Fukushima incident was not very abrupt. As such, no direct fatalities have been linked to the disaster yet. In comparison, Japan’s nuclear incident as of yet does not match the death and destruction that was caused by the Chernobyl disaster. This can be attributed to the fact that the accident was detect early enough, allowing for evacuation of the local population, in addition to taking other precautionary measures.

In a way, it might be still too early to speculate whether or not the two incidences can be compared. For example, the Fukushima plant is still at great risk due to the tons of nuclear waste material that is still stored within cores of the reactor. Since efforts to trace the source of leakages, by determined engineers have not yet borne fruit, it just matter of time before the situation becomes critical. In the mean time, the release of radioactive seawater will have to continue, together with the leakage of radioactive material from the reactor’s containment vessel; posing a serious challenge as to just how much this incident will affect the environment.

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