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The Chernobyl explosion in 1986 was the only nuclear disaster to be rated a Level 7 until now  (Source: Wordpress)
The Chernobyl explosion in 1986 was the only nuclear disaster to be rated a Level 7 until now

The nuclear crisis in Japan has had a roller coaster of reports since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck on March 11. For instance, CNN and were caught embellishing their stories early on, trying to make the nuclear danger seem worse than it was. Now, new reports are saying that Japanese officials may be downplaying the amount of radiation released, since the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency has now put the Fukushima Daiichi disaster on the same level as the 1986 Chernobyl explosion.  

The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986 when an explosion led to fire that released large amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. This event was the only nuclear disaster in history to be rated a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, but now, the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency has changed Japan's nuclear crisis from a 5 to a 7 on the scale as well.

"This is an admission by the Japanese government that the amount of radiation released into the environment has reached a new order of magnitude," said Tetsuo Iguchi, a professor in the department of quantum engineering at Nagoya University. "The fact that we have now confirmed the world's second-ever Level 7 accident will have huge consequences for the global nuclear industry. It shows that current safety standards are woefully inadequate."

As of now, Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of Japan's nuclear regulator, says the total amount of radioactive materials released from the plant equals 10 percent of what was released in Chernobyl. Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission noted that 370,000 to 630,000 terabecquerels of radioactive material has been released from Nos. 1 to 3 reactors.  

According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, a Level 7 is described as having "widespread health and environmental effects." The announcement that Japan is now a Level 7 came as Japan was pushing more citizens to evacuate areas near the Fukushima Daiichi plant because of long-term radiation exposure fears. People living within a 12-mile radius of the plant were already ordered to evacuate early on, but now, government officials have ordered those living within a 19-mile radius to stay inside or evacuate the area. 

In addition, communities beyond the 19-mile radius have been evacuated as well due to how the radiation is spreading. Different variables like wind can determine where the radiation spreads. For instance, a community called Iitate, which is "well beyond the 19-mile radius," has had high radiation readings because of wind from the plant. The government is also looking to evacuate Katsurao, Kawamata, Minamisoma and Namie within one month because of concerns regarding long-term radiation exposure. If the conditions grow worse, Naraha, Hirono, Tamura, Kawauchi and other sections of Minamisoma will be evacuated as well. 

"This measure is not an order for you to evacuate or take actions immediately," said Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary. "We arrived at this decision by taking into account the risks of remaining in the area in the long term." 

With both the Chernobyl explosion and Japan's nuclear crisis on the same level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, some are worried that Fukushima may become worse than Chernobyl. For instance, Junichi Matsumoto, a nuclear executive for Tokyo Electric Power Company, said his biggest concern is that radiation levels could exceed Chernobyl at some point. But there are some clear distinctions between the two events that make his claim extremely unlikely. The most important difference between Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis is that most of the radioactive elements in Fukushima's reactors were contained within the reactors. 

"If everything inside the reactor came out, obviously that would surpass Chernobyl," said Seiji Shiroya, a commissioner and the former director of the Research Reactor Institute at Kyoto University. "There was only one troubled reactor there, while we have three or more, so simply speaking, that's three times as worse. But at Fukushima, most of the reactors' radioactive elements remained within the reactor. That's a big difference."

The health effects from Chernobyl are expected to remain worse than Japan's health effects as well. Thirty-one people died in Chernobyl while 20 workers were injured at Fukushima. In addition, Dr. Robert Peter Gale, who led the international medical team responding to Chernobyl, said that if the nuclear crisis in Japan did not become any worse, there would be few, if any, thyroid cancer cases and 200 to 1,500 other cancer cases combined over the next 50 years. In Chernobyl, there were 6,000 excess cases of thyroid cancer alone.  

In regards to whether the Japanese government was downplaying the amount of radiation released, reports indicate that the Japanese government did not have an exact idea of the amounts of radiation released in the early weeks of the event, and "last week had the amounts down to an error margin within several digits."  

"Some foreigners fled the country even when there appeared to be little risk," said Shiroya. "If we immediately decided to label the situation as Level 7, we could have triggered a panicked reaction."

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday evening that Japan will rebuild, and that reactors were being stabilized despite this new decision to place the nuclear disaster at a Level 7. He also noted that radioactive material release is declining. In addition, he ordered Tokyo Electric to present new plans for the Fukushima Daiichi plant. 

"What I can say for the information I obtained - of course the government is very large, so I don't have all the information - is that no information was ever suppressed or hidden after the accident," said Kan. 

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, it measured radiation this past Saturday of 0.4 to 3.7 microsieverts per hour in areas located 20 to 40 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. 

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RE: *face palm*
By Dailyrant on 4/12/2011 11:49:12 AM , Rating: -1
This is no car accident. When it becomes a crisis, many more people are effected and for much much longer. All related diseases to direct contact and indirect, food..., ingestion. If it can be considered viable for the future it has to be balanced to it's negative side. which is much more complicated than other sources. Stockpiling is still an issue, where and how. They have locations at this moment but considered temporary. Water table and a slew of difficult problems to solve. In theory it is easy to do it but in practice, still puzzles the best of them! Many alternatives could be applied today, conserving energy is one of them. Water could be viewed as an example as to how much we waste and use at a rate unparalleled no where else on earth. It is not a right to take as much as the market says!

RE: *face palm*
By MozeeToby on 4/12/2011 12:13:23 PM , Rating: 5
On a per watt basis, more people die from solar panels than die from nuclear power. Coal kills more than 4,000 times more people (on a per watt basis) than nuclear does. Coal releases more radiative material on a per watt basis than nuclear does. Ash spills and coal mine fires have resulted in about the same amount of land lost to human development as nuclear does.

To date, the highest radiation levels outside of the plant itself are around 50 uSv/hr. But, 90% of that value is coming from iodine, which will be nearly undetectable in 3 months time. That leaves 5 uSv/hr from longer lived isotopes, generally an isotope of Cesium. That means that the yearly exposure will be, after the iodine decays, around 43 mSv/year. Or about half of the level that can be statistically shown to increase your risk of cancer (and that increase is very, very small even at 100 mSv/year).

RE: *face palm*
By FITCamaro on 4/12/2011 12:19:30 PM , Rating: 5
Facts and logic have no place in political debates that decide energy policy.

RE: *face palm*
By nolisi on 4/12/11, Rating: -1
RE: *face palm*
By MozeeToby on 4/12/2011 1:02:22 PM , Rating: 5
The problem is that the anti-nuke activists destroyed the industry for 4 decades. Because there were no power plants being built, there has been minimal amounts of effort put into improving designs and addressing the waste issues. Even with the minimal amount of effort put into the field, a modern reactor, one that was actually redesigned from the ground up, would be orders of magnitude safer and more efficient that the 40 year old antiques that we're stuck with today. I can't help but think that we'd be building the first commercial fission fragment designs right about now, if only the environmentalists hadn't tried to kill the industry.

I'm very pro-nuke, but I abhor the current nuclear infrastructure. It's at best inefficient in the way it uses fuel and at worst is dangerous the second the owners of the plant start cutting corners. But the answer to those problems isn't to deny permits for nuclear power plants, it's to require that the new plants are designed from the ground up with fail safes that make sense.

RE: *face palm*
By FITCamaro on 4/12/2011 1:16:32 PM , Rating: 5
Yes because environmentalists have a habit of being rational human beings and just asking for basic safeguards right?

No. They have the habit of saying "This is evil! Look at Chernobyl! It will kill us all!"

People wouldn't be concerned if not for the media blowing shit out of proportion. This was an extremely rare case of too many things going wrong all at once.

Should this design be used anymore? No. It's not being. Should you build a nuclear power plant on a fault line and next to the coast where tsunamis are a danger? Obviously not. Clearly the lesson here is make sure your redundant systems are sealed.

I realize this type of danger exists in Japan. I'm not concerned with how they generate their power. I care about how we do it here. And here in the US, there isn't really any danger of this happening. We don't get earthquakes resulting in massive tidal waves along our coasts. And there's very few locations that have to worry about flooding and the weather taking out power lines.

Again. Practice lessons learned and keep moving forward.

RE: *face palm*
By nolisi on 4/12/2011 3:25:59 PM , Rating: 1
Clearly the lesson here is make sure your redundant systems are sealed.

Again. Practice lessons learned and keep moving forward.

Is leaving 24 nuclear plants without safety upgrades an example of learning lessons and moving forward?

I'm not saying the environmentalists are being reasonable- but at the same time, the energy industry is not being reasonable either- regardless of what we *think* may or may not happen, it is in the best interests of the energy industry and the safety of the American public for them to perform these upgrades. It protects the industries profits and helps protect Americans from a disaster.

And while the natural disaster scenario might *seem* unlikely in the United States, aren't we also concerned about a potential terrorist finding a way of exploiting the weaknesses in our nuclear infrastructure? There was a time when we didn't think it was possible for them to take down two skyscrapers, wasn't there?

I think the best and most logical way to move forward is to upgrade our existing plants, then invest in building new ones, rather than giving the environmentalists fuel to argue against it.

RE: *face palm*
By FITCamaro on 4/12/2011 3:34:19 PM , Rating: 3
aren't we also concerned about a potential terrorist finding a way of exploiting the weaknesses in our nuclear infrastructure?

Ever been to a nuclear facility? Not exactly an easy place to get into. If you don't think there is planning for that already in place, you're mistaken. Is anything ever perfect though? No. And it'd be less of a risk if we'd secure our borders.

And I'm not against making upgrades if the risks warrant it. But if a plant of this design is in the middle of Texas where there are no earthquakes or risks of giant waves, why would you worry about those things?

But yes environmentalists are entirely at fault for these older plants really being a problem to begin with. If development had not stopped, they maybe could have retired some of the older plants by now. Hell the one in Japan was due for retirement later this year.

RE: *face palm*
By nolisi on 4/12/11, Rating: -1
RE: *face palm*
By Reclaimer77 on 4/12/2011 5:47:08 PM , Rating: 5
But yes environmentalists are entirely at fault for these older plants really being a problem to begin with.

No, just our fault for caving to their insanity and giving them legitimacy.

Everyone has a right to say what they want here, but that doesn't mean we have to listen.

RE: *face palm*
By Kurz on 4/12/2011 7:30:39 PM , Rating: 2
Sadly this country is about the force of a gun, rather than one of persuasion.

RE: *face palm*
By nolisi on 4/12/2011 7:34:17 PM , Rating: 2
No, just our fault for caving to their insanity and giving them legitimacy.

Well said; they most definitely didn't get legitimacy on their own- a whole lot of people had to listen in the first place.

RE: *face palm*
By FaceMaster on 4/12/11, Rating: -1
RE: *face palm*
By geddarkstorm on 4/12/2011 5:09:15 PM , Rating: 2
You're right. You're also far more likely to die choking on a pretzel than ever from radiation relating to nuclear disasters. Heck, a pretzel tried to assassinate one of our presidents! Those things are SCARY.

RE: *face palm*
By ekv on 4/12/2011 4:34:21 PM , Rating: 3
Wasn't that long ago that computers sucked. You let a few smart people loose on a problem, coupled with some financial incentive. Voila!

This link describes a roadmap for nuclear development

Btw, France currently dominates nuclear power industry. It could mean a lot of jobs if we had the technology to compete with them. Around 30 permits on file right now before the gov't waiting to be approved. Got to have a license to build. Waiting. Waiting....

RE: *face palm*
By omnicronx on 4/12/2011 12:21:11 PM , Rating: 5
But, 90% of that value is coming from iodine, which will be nearly undetectable in 3 months time.

This really needs to be reiterated as the media continually seems to forget this tidbit..

The halflife of iodine is considerably lower than many of the other radioactive isotopes found in a nuclear plant.

Water being released into the ocean is also not as big of an issue as some have stated as the vast ocean dilutes and disperses most of the radioactive isotopes pretty quickly.


RE: *face palm*
By hughlle on 4/12/11, Rating: -1
RE: *face palm*
By omnicronx on 4/12/2011 12:54:43 PM , Rating: 2
Solar panels aren't drifting across the sky and contaminating other countries.
But clouds do! You are most likely exposed to higher levels of radiation sitting out in the rain than anything that will ever cross the pacific ocean.

Anything out of the evacuation zone 'around 19KM if I remember' will most likely not be exposed to any kind of significant radiation levels.

RE: *face palm*
By adiposity on 4/12/2011 4:08:18 PM , Rating: 2
The reaction is similar to that of fear of flying. Even though you are more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash, there is a difference. If the plane DOES crash, you will almost surely die, whereas if a car crashes, you most likely will not.

Even though nuclear is far safer per watt than other sources of energy, the fear is not based on such statistics, but the fear of the worst case scenario. It is not totally irrational, since the worst case for nuclear is pretty bad.

What is happening in Japan is pretty minor in terms of safety, but it does remind people of the potential for disaster, which scares them.

This should serve as a wake-up call to build newer, safer power plants. But instead it will just serve as a reminder of the remote possibility of nuclear disaster. People can't help but think of worst case, instead of considering statistics.

RE: *face palm*
By futrtrubl on 4/12/2011 9:26:31 PM , Rating: 3
But it's not really about the worst case scenario it's about the perceived worse case scenario. A lot of people think meltdown means huge Hiroshima style explosion. Without sensationalisation this accident could have helped improve people's feelings about nuclear.
And then there are the historic worse cases. Nuclear: Chernobyl, 4000. Hydroelectric: Banqiao, 171,000.
And then there is almost forgotten Fukushima dam that burst after the earthquake and has killed more people than the reactors have/will.

RE: *face palm*
By Solandri on 4/13/2011 7:26:49 AM , Rating: 4
Solar panels aren't drifting across the sky and contaminating other countries... If a country can't keep it's radiation to itself then they can go and **** themselves :)

Too often, people miss the sense of scale when thinking about nuclear power, and do ridiculous things like compare a nuclear power plant to the solar panels on their roof.

The Fukushima Daiichi power station has 4.7 GW of generation capacity. Nuclear plants typically have about a 90% capacity factor (that is, over a year, they generate 90% of their maximum capacity). So that'd be 4.23 GW average power generation.

1 square meter of solar panels has an average power generation of about 20 Watts after you factor in losses (night, angle to the sun, cloudy days, etc). To generate an average 4.23 GW with solar panels would thus take 211.5 million square meters, or 211.5 square km of solar panels.

In other words, 1 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant = area the size of Chicago completely covered in solar panels.

I can guarantee you that the pollution from the materials and energy needed to manufacture that many solar panels is considerable, and would drift across the sky and through the water contaminating other countries.

RE: *face palm*
By Jaybus on 4/13/2011 9:41:12 AM , Rating: 2
The global silicon wafer production capcity is around 315 million square meters. If all of the electronics and automotive, etc. industries are shut down for a year, we might be able to make enough to build one such power station. It has ramped way up in recent years, though. A few years ago it would have taken several years of the global wafer production to make one nuclear plant replacement.

Like it or not, there isn't much choice. It will be decades before there is sufficient capacity to actually build PV plants capable of replacing nuclear. The Japanese government is going to be between a rock and a hard place. They have to somehow replace more than 4 GW of continuos power lost from the grid. They are going to be forced to tell the Japanese people that they must build, or approve to be built, a new nuclear facility. To appease the public, they are likely to build as large a PV plant as they can in addition to a new nuclear facility. That way they can say they minimized the nuclear, even though the PV plant will be 5% of the replacement capacity and the new nuke will be 95%.

RE: *face palm*
By Dailyrant on 4/12/2011 4:33:17 PM , Rating: 2
People who will have the experience to choose on this matter, of course the Japanese, I wonder how they will proceed in the future. California is on a fault, should be a good warning to do something to the existing plants and maybe look beyond this power source altogether. Coal creates smog which extends in time through a warming effect. How long will this be. Fairly long I suspect, since we have decided to continue using this source until there is no more. Nuclear is for thousands of years! Our incapacity to look squarely at the facts is directly proportionate to our greed.

RE: *face palm*
By omnicronx on 4/12/2011 12:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
Indirect, direct, sideways, backwards.. The current estimate including thyroid cancer etc (i.e those impacted but not neccesarily deaths) is still lower than the amount of people that DIE mining coal each year.

This does not even include the impact of the actual coal powered plants have on the surrounding environment and the population surrounding them. (including small amounts of radiation being released via fly ash all around the country). We have only scratched the surface in the exploration of the health and environmental risks surrounding these kind of power sources.

And please keep in mind this disaster is the product of two major disaster happening at the same time.

Nuclear power needs to be part of our future power generation. Water, Wind, Solar are not complete alternatives, they just don't have the reliability to be more than 20-30% of our power infrastructure. So its either you stick with coal and natural gas plants for the majority of your power needs, or we move to the cleaner and more efficient source of power in Nuclear.

Those are your choices for the foreseeable future, anyone telling you otherwise needs to wake up inform themselves.

I'm not saying these alternatives can't be used, I'm saying they need to be used in conjunction with other sources.

RE: *face palm*
By VahnTitrio on 4/12/2011 12:39:19 PM , Rating: 3
And please keep in mind this disaster is the product of two major disaster happening at the same time.

And on top of that to an old and poorly managed facility. Onagawa isn't having any problems, and that nuclear power plant was closer to the earthquake. What we are seeing here I think is the worst possible thing that could happen to any power plant, and that's only speaking of the dated facilities. If Fukushima had been a modern power plant with current safety designs, this incident would have never occurred despite the tremendous stresses the facility would have seen.

RE: *face palm*
By rvd2008 on 4/12/11, Rating: -1
"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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