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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 MSNBC.com 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: Was there a full meltdown?
By geddarkstorm on 4/12/2011 2:37:46 PM , Rating: 2
We can know how bad it is/was on a practical side by just measuring the radioactivity around the plant. That's all that matters for public health at the moment.

We know there was a partial melt down of rods, especially in reactor 2. They were able to get an RC unit with a cam into one of the pipes and maneuver it towards the core. It died promptly from the radiation once it reached there, but sent back a few frames showing the waterless reactor with brightly glowing rods, and some melt pooling beneath them. The chamber vessel itself, however, was holding intact. This was during the worst days of the event, so we can be confident containment will continue to hold at current temperatures.

One major design problem with this reactor was the pumps had to be powered to keep water flowing and the reactor cool. Worst yet, the pumps were BENEATH the reactor vessel. So, when the plant lost internal power from the earthquake/tsunami, the pumps failed and the water naturally drained from gravity. This plant has a lot of design mistakes that have been known for decades since it was built. Old plants were made rather stupidly, where safety required actively running, mechanical systems, rather than deadman switches.


RE: Was there a full meltdown?
By blppt on 4/12/2011 2:49:55 PM , Rating: 1
They got a camera in the core? I missed that. Do you have any links to that news?

As you no doubt know, it took them years to get a good look at the innards of the TMI Unit 2 core with a camera, I hadnt considered that with the significant advancement of technology (30+ years) they'd be able to do it sooner now.


RE: Was there a full meltdown?
By geddarkstorm on 4/12/2011 3:05:46 PM , Rating: 2
There was a reason the news was reporting all this information in the first place (did you miss the animated infographics that CNN was running showing off the reactor's design and all that was happening back then?). Where do you think it came from? For me, I had an internal source who was working in the reactor, so usually I had updates half a day or more before the news published them, but I will say no more on that matter.

And yes, remote technology is far more advanced. Take a look at your cell phone, wireless repeaters and antenna that run them all. Just as computers have leaped in power since the 80s, so too has wireless technology (and the computers needed to process the compressed digital cam data in real time in the first place). Not that anything could protect the RC unit from such high radiation once it reached there, but even a handful of frames was enough.


RE: Was there a full meltdown?
By blppt on 4/12/2011 3:37:40 PM , Rating: 2
Geez, I wasnt trying to be confrontational, I just wondered if you had a link to that news, I would have liked to read about it. Not claiming you were making it up.

And yes, I know technology is more advanced in 30+ years--- as I said in my previous post, I didnt take that into account before.


RE: Was there a full meltdown?
By geddarkstorm on 4/12/2011 4:04:03 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, no, I apologize if I sounded confrontational or if my tone seemed short, as that was not appropriate of me and I was not intending to do so.

I had just been reading comments on CNN about this were people were lamenting how millions were going to die, and the only rating higher than the 7 right now would be "end of the world". Sadly, I'm not kidding, and it left me a bit disheartened.


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