Posted by: r.m. | April 13, 2011

a worse Chernobyl?

There are mornings that are difficult. This is one of them. I have been trying to foolishly avoid the news on Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.  I have been deliberately not reading the news on Japan daily, limiting myself to reading a bit every few days instead.  Today, it can’t be avoided: The Japanese government has finally agreed with what scientists have been claiming for a month: Fukushima disaster now on a par with Chernobyl

From the Guardian: “Japan yesterday raised its assessment of the Fukushima plant accident to the same level as history’s worst nuclear crisis, admitting that “large volumes” of radioactive substances are being released in the surrounding area.
A total of 29 deaths are attributed to immediate lethal doses of radiation at the facility in the former Soviet Union, as well as thousands of cancer-linked deaths from long-term exposure. Official UN figures put the death toll from the Chernobyl disaster at 9,000. Greenpeace and other groups say it is as high as 200,000.

The shattered remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine after the explosion 25 years ago this month

AP (picture to the right)
The shattered remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant 
in Ukraine after the explosion 25 years ago this month

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, admitted yesterday, however, that with engineers still battling to bring the plant under control, “Our concern is that it could eventually exceed Chernobyl.” Some experts were taking that startling statement as a warning that discharges from the plant may be higher than admitted.

In a press conference, the Agency said their calculations showed that between 370,000 and 630,000 terabecquerels (a trillion becquerels) of radioactive materials have been spewed out of the plant – as much as one-tenth of the total contained in its damaged reactors.

The Institute of Public Accuracy published stronger words today.

Karl Grossman and others have been advocating raising the emergency level as a first step for weeks. Professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, Grossman is author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power and Power Crazy. He said today: “Finally, the Japanese government is acknowledging a little reality. But the sad fact is that the Fukushima disaster is beyond a level seven disaster, it’s off the books. You have multiple reactors and cooling pools.

(Read his excellent article “Fukushima Nuclear Disaster at One Month: The Explosion of Nukespeak” to see how Orwellian language has seeped into discussions of nuclear radiation and risk assessment.)

As horrific – and yes, horrific – as the situation is, many scientists argue that the Japanese government should have been more forthright from the start. It was akin to a Chernobyl disaster from the start.

Again, from the Institute of Public Accuracy — back in March 23!

Yablokov is senior co-author and Sherman is consulting editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. The book is the most in-depth study of the Chernobyl disaster. They said today: “It is possible for the Fukushima nuclear problem to be much worse then Chernobyl for the following reasons: There was about 30 tons of nuclear fuel at Chernobyl, while there is close to 60 tons at Fukushima. There is the additional [factor] of MOX fuel at Fukushima. There are many more people at Fukushima and a much more dense population in that part of Japan. We still don’t know the final outcome.” They warn that the risks of contamination to much of the northern hemisphere is still real.

Helen Caldicott, a medical doctor and long-standing activist against nuclear power, had also been writing and speaking out this catastrophe.  She wrote against the distortions propagated by nuclear-activists slow to realize the truth.

How nuclear apologists mislead the world over radiation. George Monbiot and others at best misinform and at worst distort evidence of the dangers of atomic energy

Soon after the Fukushima accident last month, I stated publicly that a nuclear event of this size and catastrophic potential could present a medical problem of very large dimensions. Events have proven this observation to be true despite the nuclear industry’s campaign about the “minimal” health effects of so-called low-level radiation. That billions of its dollars are at stake if the Fukushima event causes the “nuclear renaissance” to slow down appears to be evident from the industry’s attacks on its critics, even in the face of an unresolved and escalating disaster at the reactor complex at Fukushima.”

Her article deserves to be read in full.

What is also important is to broaden the discussion. The choice is not between nuclear power and fossil fuel for our energy consumption.  The choice is between destruction of our lives and our environment or renewable energy + decreased consumption.



  1. The alarmist headline “Fukushima disaster now on a par with Chernobyl” was published on the same day in the same newspaper as the opposing commentary which declared the two nuclear disasters to be fundamentally different (see Others have equally explained the two disasters “on a par” mainly due to the limitation of the nuclear scale’s 1 to 7 ranking, and that the Chernobyl disaster merits a 9 on that scale.

    Nonetheless, the situtation remains extremely serious. For a richer commentary on how bad it is with a critque of the mainstream US media, please see this article:

  2. “Radiation levels are just heading up across the board and across continents. Sunday morning the news was so bad that I didn’t know what to do or write.”

  3. Zena Chahine

    Svetlana Alexievich orte an entire book about the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. 10 years after the accident and people were still sufferig the consequences. Until today they still dont know the true effects of radioactivity because the people are not done suffering from its effects. One of the most recurring phrases among all those whho shared their experience was “we felt like we were at war but we didnt know the enemy because we couldnt see anything”. If the Fukushima is only slighty the same he results will haunt the Japanese population for many years to come (that’s disregarding other countires who will also feel the blow). Another interesting fact to note is the half-life of these nuclear chemicals.
    As we discussed in class, as far as nuclea energy is concerned, it is an unnecessary risk. Simply speaking: why go through that when we have the sun?wind?water?

  4. Nuclear Reactors need to be better equipped. The health and environmental risks need to be the number one items to discuss on the agenda, before ever starting a nuclear program. This incident took place in Japan, a country that has experienced its share of disasters in the past and so has developed methods to survive a few such disasters. And even that wasn’t enough!
    Even now, more two years later, the effects are still ongoing. This article,, describes how now the IAEA is still checking up on Fukushima. This whole time, there has been constant contamination: “Japanese officials acknowledged in July that the plant had been leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean since soon after the March 2011 earthquake and subsequent meltdowns at the plant.”
    Nature doesn’t care about our man-made boundaries; this incident and every other that has or will come to be will effect us all on a global scale. I say we forget our petty differences (as nations) and focus on what’s truly important.

    Charbel Chidiac
    Biol 207

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