Fukushima and Chernobyl’ Nuclear Disasters Comparison

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Topic: Environment
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Introduction

Both Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters were nuclear crises that occurred accidentally in Japan and Ukraine respectively. The Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant while the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Both disasters were rated seven, which is the highest in the scale due to its severity. The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986 while Fukushima disaster occurred on March 2011. The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast both nuclear disasters, access its effects and discuss some of the measures that have been undertaken in order to prevent the occurrence of a similar accident (Cooper, 2011).

Chernobyl disaster

This disaster was a nuclear accident that befell the Ukrainians on the 26th day of April in 1986. It occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and caused a lot of damage. What actually happened was that an explosion occurred at the site and caused a big fire that led to the release of huge volumes of radioactive material in to the air. This spread to large areas and it affected a large part of Europe and Western USSR (Abbott, 2006).

This nuclear disaster was considered the worst nuclear disaster in history. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, the Chernobyl disaster was one between the two nuclear accidents to be categorized as a level seven nuclear event. The other disaster that was also placed in the same category was the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The contamination was adverse and it required a very great amount of workforce to contain it. The number of workers who ended up working on that issue totaled over half a million. The costs incurred in the same venture were also crippling. The process of containing the contaminating effect of the nuclear disaster was approximately eighteen million rubles. This caused a huge economic dent on the Soviet Union’s economy.

The disaster can be traced back to the beginning whereby the disaster is thought to have taken effect. A system test was being conducted at one of the reactors at the Chernobyl Power Plant. What followed was a power output surge that occurred suddenly. When this occurred, an attempt to engage emergency shutdown was initiated. This backfired and led to a greater output of power. This consequently caused the reactor vessel to rupture and explode. There were series of other explosions that followed. This led to the exposure of the graphite moderator to air. The graphite moderator ignited due to the presence of air resulting in fire. This fire caused some deadly, radioactive smoke to be released into the atmosphere and over a large area. The plume drifted over large areas including Europe and Soviet Union (Read, 1993).

Since the time of the incident until the year 2000, over 350,000 people were evacuated from the areas surrounding the site and were settled in other areas (Abbott, 2006). People who were evacuated were from Russia, Ukraine and other neighboring areas. This disaster created a wave of panic and people were concerned about the safety of the nuclear power industry in that country. It is due to this fears that the government decided to slow the expansion of nuclear power for some years. This also forced the government of the Soviet Union to conduct its procedures in a less secretive manner. Another consequence of this disaster was that the people finally discovered that the government had attempted to cover up the Chernobyl disaster. This catalyzed the formation of reforms that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Ukrainians, Russians and people from Belarus are still feeling the effects of the contamination caused by the nuclear disaster. This has forced them to get involved in the decontamination process. They have also continuously incurred costs due to health care.

Various investigations were conducted on the Chernobyl disaster. The International Atomic Energy Agency was responsible for the investigations. They examined the consequences that the disaster had to the environment. After the investigations, they concluded that the death toll resulting from the direct effects of the accident was thirty-one. The people affected were the emergency workers and those who worked at the reactor. Separate investigations by the UNSCEAR estimated the death toll resulting from nuclear radiation to be sixty-four. This was confirmed in 2008.

The World Health Organization estimated that at least four thousand civilians died and this number did not include the military personnel that became casualties during clean-up procedures. The was yet another estimation made in 2006 about the deaths caused by the indirect effects of the disaster. These were in form of patients who died of cancer, which is believed to have been an effect of the contaminants. This number was estimated to be between thirty and sixty thousand deaths (Dvorak and Landers, 2011). Investigations by Greenpeace raised the figure to above two hundred thousand.

A certain publication dubbed Chernobyl suggested that close to one million premature deaths between 1986 and 2004 all over the world were attributed to the Chernobyl disaster (Onishi, 2011). However, this estimation was criticized and said to have been an exaggeration since scientific evidence lacked.

There are certain human factors that contributed to the accident and consequently, the loss of lives. At around the time the accident occurred, one hundred and sixty people were on duty. These included the maintenance staff and technicians. They operated at their respective departments. There were 300 more workers at the site that night. A radiation-monitoring technician made one of the mistakes that were made that night. He failed to check the forth Unit at the beginning of his shift. He assumed that everything was ok since it had been shut down. There was likely an early warning about the disaster but no one anticipated that magnitude of damage. The senior turbine machinist operator had noticed some fire in the turbine hall. He ran to the control room to report the fire (Cheney, 1995).

Some engineering controls were put in place in order to mitigate the consequences that resulted from the accident. One of them included draining the pool of water that was under the floor. This water had been contaminated by radioactive material. Pumps from the fire brigade were used to drain the contents from the basement and this operation did not end until 8 May. Another intervention to mitigate the consequences was the removal of the radioactive debris. The worst of this debris was found inside what was previously the reactor. The liquidators did the shoveling of the debris but they had to be in some protective gear. Due to the large doses of radiation from the site, the liquidators could only work for a maximum of forty seconds per time.

In order to reduce the effects of the block of graphite and other debris, five thousand metric tons of sand and led were dropped from helicopters. To prevent further chain-reactions and explosions, rain was prevented from entering the contaminated area. This civil engineering task was considered the largest of all such tasks in history. This is because it involved over 250,000 workers who worked until they reached their limits of radiation (Abbott, 2006).

Fukushima nuclear disaster

This nuclear disaster was an accident that resulted in a series of failed equipment, meltdown of nuclear and the release of radioactive material. This occurred at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and was as a result of an earthquake and the Tsunami. It occurred in Okuma, Japan. It was considered the most destructive nuclear accident in twenty-five years after Chernobyl disaster (Ito, 2011).

At the time of the incident, the fourth reactor had been defueled while the next two had been shut down following a proposed maintenance exercise. When the earthquake hit the area, the other reactors automatically shut down. An emergency generator went online to salvage the electronics and the cooling system. It was unfortunate that what followed the quake was the tsunami. The large currents of water were so strong that it broke the connection of the rector to the power unit. This cut-off of power supply led the reactors to start overheating. It was impossible to receive help from the outside since it was very flooded. The damage caused by the earthquake also caused the inaccessibility to the area.

Within few days, the first three reactors had experienced complete meltdown. Workers attempted to cool and shut down the reactors but this led to the occurrence of hydrogen explosions. The government tried to intervene and ordered that the seawater be used to cool off the reactors but this did not work either. Instead, it led to the complete destruction of the reactors.

The level of water in the fuel rod continued to drop drastically causing the heating up of the rods. Due to fears of the possibility of the release of radioactive fumes, the government ordered a twenty-kilometer evacuation. Meanwhile, the workers in the plant continued to suffer exposure to the radioactive substance but they were evacuated temporarily at intervals. After a while, some reactors were stabilized using electrical power and this facilitated cooling.

At the initial stages, some engineers rated it as a level 4 nuclear incident. This was according to the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). Other international agencies did not agree with this scale, as they believed that it was much severe. This level rose to five and later to seven, which is the highest value in the scale. The government seemed to have poorly communicated this incident to its citizens and this led to criticisms. It later organized for cleanup activities.

The Japanese government attempted to compare the Fukushima nuclear incident with that of Chernobyl incident and concluded that the total amount of radioactive material emitted in the Fukushima nuclear accident was only a mere tenth of that which was emitted during the Chernobyl incident. Some reasonable amount of radioactivity was released into the ocean and to the underground water.

Investigations done between 30 and 50 kilometers away from the site showed that there were traces of radioactive material that were of substantial amounts and could cause harm. In order to mitigate the consequences of the nuclear incident, the government banned the consumption of food that had been grown in the affected area. Tokyo also advised its people to avoid using tap water to prepare food for their infants.

Comparing the two nuclear incidents, the Fukushima incident may be considered to have been less fatal since there were no reported deaths or serious injuries due to the direct effects of the radioactivity. However, a few of the staff at the nuclear plant were injured severely or killed due to the effects of the earthquake. A significant number, but way lower than those involved in the Chernobyl incident, received huge doses of radiation. It has been estimated that in the future, it is expected that between 100 and 1000 people would die of cancer due to the exposure to radiation.

There is a possibility that the nuclear disaster would have been avoided or prevented. Firstly, there were reports of falsified safety records by some executives at managing the power plant. This included the unreported safety hazards that had previously been experienced there. If these hazards had been reported, the future disaster would have been avoided. The other thing is that the Japanese government ignored a court order to shut down a nuclear plant towards the western part of the country with the reason that it would not be able to withstand earthquakes. The other reason is that the Tsunami-study was ignored. Some studies had showed that there was a possibility of a Tsunami hitting the area but the officials ignored it and said that the reports were mere exaggerations. It is for this reason that they did not prepare themselves for such a catastrophe.

Similarities and differences between the nuclear disasters

Both the nuclear disasters that occurred in Japan and Ukraine have similarities and differences. The first similarity is that they were both of the same level (level seven) according to the International Nuclear Event Scale. This is due to the severity of the incident. Both incidents led to contamination of large geographic areas since radioactive material could be traced in areas more than 50 kilometers. Another similarity is that both incidents occurred due to ignorance of some sort. One of the differences between the two is the cause of the disaster. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was cause by a power surge that resulted in several explosions that destroyed a reactor. This caused the release of a cloud of radioactive materials that spread to far lands including Europe.

On the other hand, the Fukushima nuclear disaster was caused by an earthquake and Tsunami. The other difference between the two is the amount of radioactive material that was released. The Chernobyl incident resulted to the release of a huge amount of radioactive material compared to the amount released from the Fukushima incident. The radiations from the Chernobyl incident were estimated to have been ten time that from the other incident.

Worldwide media response to the disasters

Both disasters hit the headlines immediately the incidents were heard of. The worldwide media sent a wave of panic to the victim’s families and those people who lived some few kilometers away from the site. The worldwide media including BBC and CNN termed both incidents as nuclear disasters.

BBC news blamed the management for lack of preparedness (Black, 2011). This is because they had known about the Tsunami but did nothing to prepare for it. The media was constructive in that it highlighted on some of the failures of the management in order to ensure that such a thing would not happen again. Media was also involved in sending warning messages to those people living close to the site to warn them about the effects of contamination. The media was careful to provide as accurate information as possible and was ready to provide help where possible. The sensitivity elicited by the media was also commendable.

Conclusion

Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters were the two greatest nuclear disasters in the history of nuclear energy productions. Both incidents could be attributed to the lack of proper precaution measures by either the management or the staff. The incidents led to the evacuation of people from the surrounding areas. The effects of the radiation activity were adverse and people suffered from either the direct or the indirect effects of the incident. However, various interventions were undertaken to mitigate the consequences.

References

Abbott, P 2006. ‘Chernobyl: Living with risk and uncertainty’, Health, Risk & Society, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 105-121.

Black, R 2011. ‘BBC News – Japan quake: Radiation rises at Fukushima nuclear plant’, BBC News.

Cheney, G 1995. Journey to Chernobyl: Encounters in a radioactive zone, Academy, Chicago.

Cooper, M 2011. ‘Nuclear power loses support in new poll’, The New York Times, p. 6.

Dvorak, P & Landers, P 2011. ‘At a glance: Crisis rating, workers injuries, death toll tops 10,000’, The Wall Street Journal, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 2-3.

Ito, M 2011. ‘Official probe begins into nuclear disaster’, Japan Times, p. 1.

Onishi, N 2011. ‘Japan held nuclear data, leaving evacuees in Peril,’ New York Times, p. 2.

Read, P 1993. Ablaze! The story of Chernobyl, Random House, UK.