Entries in Chernobyl (3)


Chernobyl Nuclear Accident: 25 Years Later

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As Japan continues work to prevent a meltdown at its badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the world on Tuesday marks a grim anniversary of the nuclear age.

On April 26, 1986, a series of explosions inside reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine resulted in the worst nuclear accident in history.  Following the blasts, large quantities of highly radioactive smoke were released into the atmosphere that spread over Western Russia and Europe.  It’s estimated that as much as 60 percent of the fallout landed in Belarus.

During the five years after the accident, over 350,000 people were evacuated from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine and resettled.

Meanwhile, more than 500,000 workers were ultimately required to contain the nuclear contamination.  The high cost of the operation was a major factor in crippling the economy of the Soviet Union.

It’s believed that 31 people were killed as a direct result of the catastrophe at Chernobyl, including reactor staff and emergency workers, most of them dying within three months.  Estimates of those who died over time due to radioactive contamination vary wildly.  The World Health Organization puts the number at 4,000 while the Russian publication, Chernobyl, says the accident caused 985,000 deaths from 1986 to 2004.

The accident at Chernobyl was rated a seven, the highest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which was recently matched by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  However, that accident is not considered as serious as what occurred at Chernobyl.

An investigation into what caused the explosion at Chernobyl's unit four pinned the blame on a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.

By October of 1986, Russian workers had encased unit four in concrete, which allowed the other reactors at the Chernobyl plant to continue operating until December 2000, when the last reactor there was shut down.  Over time, some of those who were forced from their homes in contaminated regions have returned, including to parts of Belarus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Officials Raise Nuclear Severity Level to Equal Chernobyl

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency Tuesday raised the level of severity at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from 5 to level 7 -- the highest level on the international scale and equal to the Chernobyl accident.

The agency says the level 7 ranking was made because the damaged reactors have been releasing large amounts of radioactive substances, posing a threat to humans and the environment in a much wider area.

Hidehiko Nishiyama with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said the radiation from Fukushima equals about 10 percent of what was released after the Chernobyl accident in 1986.  He added that the Fukushima event is different from Chernobyl, where a nuclear reactor in Ukraine exploded and sent massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

"In the case of Chernobyl, there were many acute radiation injuries reported, 29 people died and in Fukushima's case we have not seen such a situation arise yet," he said.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has tried to stabilize the nuclear reactor since the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami damaged the plant last month.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency ranked the severity of the Fukushima situation at level 5 on March 18.

At a news conference Tuesday, Nishiyama said after reviewing the radiation amounts released since the initial assessment of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137 levels, officials decided that the incident should be categorized as a level 7.

The new categorization comes after TEPCO workers at the reactor complex on Tuesday morning extinguished a small fire at a switchbox that contained batteries, according to a news release.

It was unclear whether the blaze was sparked by a 6.3 aftershock that hit about 48 miles offshore from Tokyo Tuesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Comparing Japan to Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

DigitalGlobe via Getty ImagesREPORTER'S NOTEBOOK
By John Donvan, ABC News

(TOKYO) -- Though there are complaints that too little information is getting out about Japan's nuclear power plant, Fukushima Daiichi, it's nothing compared to what we were told when Chernobyl occurred.

Chernobyl, the nuclear accident in the Soviet Union in 1986 that set a standard for awfulness, started out with the Soviets saying NOTHING at all for days after the explosion.

On April 28, 1986 all we knew was that in Sweden, of all places, some nuclear plant workers had showed up for their daily scan and there was radiation in their clothing. That was the only sign that something was in the air because it wasn't coming from Sweden.

The Swedes later discovered by looking at satellite imagery that it was coming from 600 miles away, where the red zones marked the Chernobyl reactors.

Suddenly, it was a global emergency. News reports around the world put up these maps tracking an invisible cloud that was HIGHLY radioactive. Everyone was trying to calculate the winds, radiation was showing up in Europeans' kids milk. and the Austrians were scanning passengers who might have flown through the cloud.

In Poland, they were making kids take iodine, and in Japan they were testing to see if the cloud had reached that far across the Pacific.

Finally, after three days, the Soviets admitted (barely) to the fact that there had been a fire, and they themselves were now belatedly starting evacuations from the area near the Chernobyl reactor. All the while they were insisting the fire was out.

Except, the fire wasn't out and for days it burned. Death came to the many firefighters and staff who stayed and the divers who swam in radioactive pools to reach critical valves. Helicopter pilots also fell ill as they ferried in water and cement to smother the whole mess from above. Had they not sacrificed themselves -- or been sacrificed -- the harm would have been a great deal worse to the rest of the public.

That's saying something because in time thousands of kids who lived nearby developed thyroid disease, and the nearest city to Chernobyl once abandoned in 1986 remains empty to this day. The kind of radiation that fell around here takes 300 years to dissipate.

Chernobyl was so bad because of the lies from officials and because there was no containment vessel around the reactor. When the roof blew off it was open sky for a reactor on fire.

The Japan reactors have containment vessels, greatly increasing the chances that radiation won't travel like it did in 1986. As long as that stays true, Chernobyl's hold on the title of worst nuclear disaster ever by far, seems sorrowfully secure.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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