Fukushima & Chernobyl: Inherent Risks Of Using Nuclear Energy3 years, 10 months ago
Posted on May 25, 2019, 7 p.m.
Japan’s Fukushima nuclear radioactive disaster leaked over 300 tons of radioactive water into the ground and over 15,000 terabecquerels of radioactive materials to the ocean. Since the disaster between 20-40 trillion additional becquerels of radioactive tritium has leaked into the ocean, another 300 tons into the ground from the latest storage tank and the damaged plant is still leaking 300 tons of water containing radionuclides into the ocean every day.
Levels of radioactivity have been measured in fish and other sea life since the disaster caught off the coast, cesium levels exceed regulatory limit but are reported to have dropped some. Contaminated soil around the leaking tank is being removed as well as water remaining inside it. There are concerns of other tanks failing as a third of the tanks have seals that were only meant to last 5 years, but there are plans to build tanks with welded seams.
Cleaning up the radioactive water will take decades, several methods are being considered to prevent contaminated groundwater from reaching the ocean, ultimately an integrated systematic water treatment plan is needed.
Fukushima’s meltdown in 2011 is considered to be the worst disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, both were given INES ratings of seven, but 10 times more radiation was released at Chernobyl and the health consequences to date at Fukushima have been less. Both disasters released radioactive iodine-131 which was the most immediate threat but effects of it soon dissipated as it has a half life of eight days. Long term hazards arise primarily from strontium-90 and cesium-137 radioactive isotopes in both disasters which has a half life of 30 years.
Chernobyl involved the explosion of an entire reactor, the core unspooled rapidly and violently sending out a plume of radiation over a wide area, nearby people drank contaminated milk and later developed cancer. Fukushima’s radioactive cores remained mostly protected with three reactors experiencing meltdowns and much of the radioactive material was carried out to sea, people were evacuated, and contaminated food was kept from stores. W.H.O. has said there is little health risk outside the 18 mile evacuation zone, although long term health risks are unknown.
At Chernobyl 2 workers were killed in the explosion, and another 29 died from radiation poisoning over 3 months, many of those who died knowingly exposed themselves to secure the plant. In the following years cancer in children jumped by 90%. 200,000 people were relocated, in 2006 Greenpeace estimated the number of fatalities to be 93,000 with 270,000 people developing cancers who otherwise wouldn’t have.
Chernobyl has a exclusion zone of 18 miles, towns within still remain abandoned to this day. Trees turned red and died soon after the disaster, now diverse wildlife appears to be thriving in the absence of humans. In 2010 the radiation exposure was reported to be negligible and the zone has been opened to tourists as long as they carry dosimeters to check radiation exposure as certain areas are still not safe and levels vary widely. The Red Forest still has concentrated hotspots which have been outlined in current maps made by aerial drones.
At Fukushima there were no deaths or cases of radiation sickness directly associated with the disaster in any of the workers or members of the public according to W.H.O. This is credited to Japan’s aggressive disaster response which relocated 100,000 people. This disaster is thought to have indirectly caused 1,000 deaths, but the long term effects still are not known, and currently there is a no go zone around Fukushima that extends for 12 miles.
Though smaller the extent of Fukushima’s environmental impact is still unknown, and it is still occurring. Already there is evidence of genetic mutations being on the rise in butterflies in the area, and radiation from contaminated water reached North America’s western coast in 2014 which was reported to be too low to pose a threat. In 2018 wines produced in California had elevated levels of radioactive cesium-137 from it, but the wines were declared not to be dangerous to consume.
“No one should underestimate the challenges needed to ensure nuclear power is safe enough for it to play a major role in the world's energy future. The key for regulators and operators is to always prepare for the unexpected." says Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Project, who notes both of these disasters provide very important lessons for the world on underestimating the inherent dangers and risks of using nuclear energy.
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