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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.