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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 hughlle on 4/12/2011 12:48:11 PM , Rating: -1
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 :)

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%.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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