Date of Submission
Comparing Radiation Exposure from Chernobyl and Fukushima Case
Chernobyl and Fukushima reactor accidents had different causes. In the case of Chernobyl, an unconventional reactor operation experienced a runaway power surge, followed by steam and hydrogen explosion, causing fire in the reactor. This reactor exploded, releasing radioactive material into the utmost parts of the atmosphere. Failure to come up with appropriate strategies to contain the explosion made the fire and smoke to last for about ten days, and spread widely to even affect eastern and Western Europe as well. In the case of Fukushima, an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi reactors and led to electricity loss on the site. This resulted in a momentary halt of the cooling of the fuel in the reactor cores. Hydrogen buildup in the three power plants led to an explosion. However, the amount of radiation released in Fukushima was less and could not compare to that of Chernobyl. The Japanese government explained that by reaching a “cold shutdown condition,” it showed stabilization of coolant temperature and the halt of further release of radiation from the site. Nonetheless, both accidents have health impact on the affected populations; however, the degree of the impact varies with the different radiation exposure levels in the two cases.
According to (Elliott 89), the 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima and the 1986 situation at Chernobyl are both rated 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, even though these happened differently. Chernobyl registered the most health effects as 28 reactor staff and emergency workers, who were highly exposed to radiation, succumbed to thermal and radiation burns after four months of the accident. By the end of 2004, 19 more were reported to have lost their lives. It is also widely believed that the incident caused about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer. On the other hand, in Japan, no deaths have been linked to the radiation exposure. The difference in radiation release in the two cases is responsible for the varying impacts. For instance, Fukushima radiation release was almost10 percent of that from Chernobyl. At Chernobyl, the explosion of the reactor led to a fire that lasted for ten days. The explosion at Fukushima was due to Hydrogen buildup and did not involve the reactors themselves (Bortz 41).
In the case of Fukushima, the magnitude of harm caused by radiation exposure is uncertain, since the event is still fresh, unlike Chernobyl, which occurred a quarter century ago. Since Chernobyl incidence occurred years back, it has given an opportunity for medical researchers to determine the health impact of the radiation exposure. However, there are also potential health effects, which will be presented by the Fukushima radiation exposure in the future; it is just a matter of time.
Most concerns arising from radiation exposure mainly base on the risk posed to the broader public. During such radiation, people outside and close to the plants inhale air that is mixed with the radiation components. The major radioactive chemical elements, which are inhaled or enter the body through food consumption include, Iodine-131 and Cesium-137. Iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days and when inhaled, concentrates in the throat. On the other hand, Cesium-137has a half-life of thirty years and can enter the body through the consumption of food, which was grown in contaminated soil.
Studies today show that, the main health effect of Chernobyl, is thyroid cancer in children, who were exposed. This is because of the ingestion of Iodine-131. Today, close to 6000 cases of thyroid cancer are attributed to Chernobyl reactor accident. Although Iodine’s radioactive decays quickly to untraceable levels, it is expected that cases of thyroid cancer will increase. This radiation exposure affected many children because Iodine is greatly absorbed and settles in the thyroid glands of children, who are still in the developmental stage.
The emergency response in the two accidents varied, and this is why their radiation exposure levels are different too. In Chernobyl, radiation release was not controlled, even as the population was not protected from radiation. Thyroid cancer in children is the most notable health impact from Chernobyl. However, this could be controlled if the government mitigated the disaster by applying radiation protection procedures, and distributing potassium iodide, in addition to controlling food supply in the affected areas. On the contrary, in Japan, there were many immediate efforts to minimize the exposure of people to the radiation. Residents were evacuated and supplied with Potassium Iodide, and sale of milk and leafy vegetables was restricted after the meltdown of Fukushima nuclear plant (Medalia 4-7).
Conclusively, the health impacts associated with explosion of these power plants was mainly in form of thyroid cancer in the case of Chernobyl, which registered most effects. In Fukushima, health impacts have not been registered yet considering it occurred recently, yet health impacts are long-term. This also resulted in many other impacts such as homelessness, apart from heath impacts. In addition, these cases, especially the much recent Fukushima incident, raises serious concerns over the future of nuclear plants in the world. We are not sure if the recent Fukushima incidence will result in the bouncing back of nuclear power like how it happened after Chernobyl. Nonetheless, the nuclear industry has suffered a meltdown; maybe it may or may never recover.
Bortz, Albert. “Meltdown!: The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy
Future.” New York: Twenty-First Century Books, 2012.
Elliott, David. “Fukushima: Impacts and Implications.” London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Medalia, Jonathan. “Japanese Nuclear Incident: Technical Aspects.” New Jersey: Diane
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