A satellite view shows the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant on March 14, 2011, after two of its reactors exploded.
The new HBO series “Chernobyl” dramatizes the accident and horrific aftermath of a nuclear meltdown that rocked the Ukraine in 1986. Twenty-five years later, another nuclear catastrophe would unfold in Japan, after the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami triggered a disastrous system failure at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.Both of these accidents released radiation; their impacts were far-reaching and long-lasting.
But how do the circumstances of Chernobyl and Fukushima compare to each other, and which event caused more damage? [5 Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Chernobyl]
Only one reactor exploded at Chernobyl, while three reactors experienced meltdowns at Fukushima. Yet the accident at Chernobyl was far more dangerous, as damage to the reactor core unspooled very rapidly and violently, said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist and acting director for the Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety Project.
“As a result, more fission products were released from the single Chernobyl core,” Lyman told Live Science. “At Fukushima the cores overheated and melted but did not experience violent dispersal, so a much smaller amount of plutonium was released.”
In both accidents, radioactive iodine-131 posed the most immediate threat, but with a half-life of eight days, meaning half of the radioactive material decayed within that time, its effects soon dissipated. In both meltdowns, the long-term hazards arose primarily from strontium-90 and cesium-137, radioactive isotopes with half-lives of 30 years.
And Chernobyl released far more cesium-137 than Fukushima did, according to Lyman.
“About 25 petabecquerels (PBq) of cesium-137 was released to the environment from the three damaged Fukushima reactors, compared to an estimate of 85 PBq for Chernobyl,” he said (PBq is a unit for measuring radioactivity that shows the decay of nuclei per second).
What’s more, Chernobyl’s raging inferno created a towering plume of radioactivity that dispersed more widely than the radioactivity released by Fukushima, Lyman added.
Sickness, cancer and death
At Chernobyl, two plant workers were killed by the initial explosion and 29 more workers died from radiation poisoning over the next three months, Time reported in 2018. Many of those who died had knowingly exposed themselves to deadly radiation as they worked to secure the plant and prevent further leaks. Government officials relocated an estimated 200,000 people from the region, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In the years that followed, cancers in children skyrocketed in the Ukraine, up by more than 90%, according to Time. A report issued by United Nations agencies in 2005 approximated that 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from Chernobyl. Greenpeace International estimated, in 2006, that the number of fatalities in the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus could be as high as 93,000 people, with 270,000 people in those countries developing cancers who otherwise would not have done so……..
The extent of Fukushima’s environmental impact is still unknown, though there is already some evidence that genetic mutations are on the rise in butterflies from the Fukushima area, producing deformations in their wings, legs and eyes. [See Photos of Fukushima’s Deformed Butterflies] …….
radiation levels around Chernobyl can vary widely. Aerial drone surveys revealed in May that radiation in Ukraine’s Red Forest was concentrated in previously unknown “hotspots,” which scientists outlined in the region’s most accurate radiation maps to date.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant is still open and active (though the reactors that exploded remain closed); nonetheless, ongoing concerns about safety linger. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) recently announced that it would not hire foreign workers coming to Japan under newly relaxed immigration rules……. https://www.livescience.com/65554-chernobyl-vs-fukushima.html