Chernobyl at 25: Today marks 25 years since Chernobyl blew up, plagued as it was by a mixture of poor decision-making by its chief operator, Anatoly Diatlov, as well as a critically flawed reactor design. All these years later, officials and experts still debate the health effects resulting from the crisis; the UN concluded about 6,000 youths would/have suffered thyroid cancer as a result, while other scientists and organizations insist the magnitude of the problem is much greater, in the tens of thousands. Now, the containment sarcophagus around Chernobyl is decaying, to boot, so the building of “the shelter,” an enormous arch that would cover the entire plant, becomes more important than ever for the surrounding areas. source
p53angel asks: Hey guys! So first, a little background, I’m a 2nd year microbio major at Ohio State U (basically, I’m into science and what we can use it for). However, and a big however, looking at what’s happened in Chernobyl, Brazil, and recently Japan (heck even the “demon core,”) I’m beginning to wonder if we haven’t bitten off more than we can chew with nuclear power. Before the Sendai earthquake, I was pretty convinced that nuclear power was pretty safe because we understood it, and took tons of precautions with it, but I’m having doubts now; and it was a magic solution to the fossil fuels dilemma. But what about all the toxic waste we don’t really have a way of getting rid of? What about when it goes wrong, something completely out of our control (like an earthquake and tsunami.) It’s like the Jurassic Park question: we can, but should we? In this case, are we ready to play with this fire? I mean, areas in Ukraine are never going to be habitable again. That’s pretty serious stuff. (and, granted, Fukushima is not like that, and Chernobyl was 30 years ago in the Soviet Union). Still. The question stands; Should we use nuclear power on such a massive scale when we really can’t control what we’re doing to our environment/ourselves? Just my thoughts, I’m curious about what you guys have to say. Thanks!
» We say: Without digging too far into all this, I guess that you have to weigh the risk/reward here. That’s ultimately our feeling on the whole mess, and something we’ve said in the past about this matter. The thing is, even with the environmental issues that have come up of late, it’s still far safer than many forms of energy. And even ones considered “safe” have their downsides. And to put into clear terms: I don’t think anyone’s arguing about making nuclear our only energy source. Rather, I think that, because the damage caused when nuclear energy screws up is so acute (thereby lending itself to media frenzy), it leads to the type of overreaction that ultimately hurts further research and discourages figuring out how to make it safer. Coal and oil make smog and are growing more limited by the year; solar is an intermittent resource without continuous availability; wind makes noise and has many of the same problems as solar; biomass cuts into our food supply; fracking natural gas can damage the water supply. And well, nuclear energy occasionally causes fluke accidents like Fukushima and has not-insignificant waste issues. The question is, is there a way avoid or limit these flaws, with any of these sources?
Fukushima was not as bad as Chernobyl. If Fukushima is a level 7 accident, maybe we need to go back and recalibrate the scale and add a level 8 or 9.University of Southern California Prof. Najmedin Meshkati • Expressing frustration that Fukushima was rated on the same level as Chernobyl, a 7 on the nuclear accident scale. Japan’s own Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says it’s only 10 percent as bad as Chernobyl. On top of that, nobody has died from the post-quakeaccident and 21 workers have gotten minor illnesses from radiation. At Chernobyl, a number of people died — dozens immediately and many more from cancer years later. If we’re somehow putting Chernobyl on the same level as Fukushima, something’s wrong about the levels. source (via • follow)
» It’s no longer at its peak, and that’s a good thing: The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the decrease happened over a six-hour period. And the IAEA makes a good point that you should keep in mind. “This is a high dose-level value, but it is a local value at a single location and at a certain point in time,” they say. In other words, even if you’re within the 20-mile radius where radiation is likely to hit, the level will most assuredly be far lower than these peak levels. It’s still high, though – one milli-sievert per hour is equal to the yearly legal limit of radiation you’re supposed to get. (see our earlier posts about this topic here and here)
» This is an extremely large jump: One milli-sievert per hour is the legal annual limit for radiation in a year. Our earlier estimate showed a level of 8,217 micro-sieverts. 1,000 micro-sieverts equals 1 milli-sievert. So we went from 8,000 to 400,000 in a couple of hours. This is still no Chernobyl, but this is a huge jump. If it jumps to 1,000,000 micro-sieverts, it leads to radiation sickness – and then we’re in trouble. (For more info, read these posts: One. | Two. | Three.)
» To explain: This number comparison is to emphasize the difference between an actual going-to-kill-us-all meltdown and what’s happening in Fukushima. While things could get worse from here, right now, the worst of what’s happening in Fukushima is 0.3 percent as bad as the worst of the Chernobyl disaster. 400 rontgen is enough radiation to kill you. 10,000 micro-sievert equals 1 rontgen. Chernobyl was pushing out 30,000 rontgen per hour at its core – enough to kill someone in 48 seconds.
This is an important point to make – while levels are higher than normal, this is extremely minor on the scale of a real disaster. Oh, and one more thing – Fukushima only hit its 8,217 micro-sievert peak for a very short period. Chernobyl’s level was sustained. (EDIT: Please see update. | Second update. | Third update. | Fourth update.)