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Japan Earth Power Technology Science

Fukushima and Chernobyl Side-by-Side 284

Posted by timothy
from the holy-super-pollution dept.
gbrumfiel writes "It's now been six months since an earthquake and tsunami sparked a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. New data from the Japanese government is now allowing a closer comparison of the fallout from the disaster with the Chernobyl. In terms of Cs-137, the contaminant of greatest concern, Fukushima appears to be about a fifth as bad as Chernobyl. Nature News has a Google Earth mash-up that lets you see the two accidents together. Nature also reports that chaos and bureaucracy are slowing efforts to research the crisis." (Note: There's plenty left for Linux users in the accompanying text, but the Google Earth plug-in is for Windows and Mac OS X only.)
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Fukushima and Chernobyl Side-by-Side

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  • by Ferzerp (83619) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:44AM (#37339374)

    "The total radioactive release from Fukushima is currently estimated at about 5.5% of Chernobyl, which spewed an incredible 14x1019Bq. "

    Finally a story, (from something called the Nature News Blog no less), that doesn't try to say that the Japan incident is as bad a Chernobyl. Responsibility in reporting? I am shocked.

    • Nature [wikipedia.org] is one of the oldest science journals.

      It's nice to see proof that the accident was not really on the scale of Chenobyl. It released only around 5% of the radioactive material, and lacked the dangerous and long-lived heavier isotopes of Chernobyl. The one downside is the proximity to the ocean, which could hurt the local fishing industry and is expected to spawn 1.5–2 horrific monsters bent on destroying Tokyo.

      • The only thing more horrific than a horrific monster is HALF a horrific monster climbing out of the ocean and destroying Tokyo. I guess they can't call it God so it would just be Zilla, a pair of giant stomping legs and a tail, with nothing above the pelvis...
        • by troc (3606)

          Zilla, a pair of giant stomping legs and a tail, with nothing above the pelvis...

          Reminds me of a girl I once went out with.

          *shudder*

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, are you sure enough you can trust the Japanese government?
      Time and time again, the Japanese government has proved that it will distort or hide facts just to suppress public fear and outrage,
      It has constantly been downplaying the consequences and denying facts.
      I live in Japan approx. 200 miles from that plant.
      Daily we still experience the consequences of a failing burocracy that was more interested in getting luxury dinners and gifts from the electric companies rather than demanding safe power plants.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Accuracy? Those numbers are based on what Tepco and the Japanese government provided. So far every estimate they have given has vastly understated the actual levels. They have done that through this whole thing and may still be attempting to hide the true impact.

      Until there is a legitimate 3rd party that can verify all this then we just don't know.

      • by EdZ (755139)
        The IAEA? NISA? Both are in the country and sampling. If the government-published figures were far off their figures, you can be certain they'd raise a stink about it.
      • The official figures provided by TEPCO and the Japanese government apparently didn't include the radiation released into the ocean as a result of the giant hole in the retaining wall.

    • Can't believe you are so ignorant that you don't know what Nature is.....
    • by jdcope (932508)
      "New data from the Japanese government" 'nuff said.
    • by Tharsman (1364603)

      As bad? You behind the times dude, the fashion in the press is to state that Fukushhima is the worst disasta evah! If you Fox News it's also 10 times worse than Chernobyl AND since it happened during Obama's administration it's Obama's fault for his poor administration of the "Japanese territory".

  • Side by side (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:45AM (#37339400) Homepage Journal

    State operated nuclear power plant, designed to produce weapon grade nuclear material and operated without complete theoretical understanding of the underlying principles and mishandled due to political pressure

    vs

    privately operated, but State regulated power plant, designed to provide power while withstanding extreme weather conditions, but a plant that should really have been decommissioned and newer designs should have been put into operation.

    --

    A reactor explosion due to build up of extreme pressure

    vs

    A reactor breach without an explosion but with hydrogen exploding subsequently around the reactor.

    --

    Well, I want privately operated power plants with new types of design, that's what I want all over the place. I want private money being allowed into the field, letting up on the government regulations, I want a tiny nuclear reactor in my house and in my car and at some point in my lightsaber, how about that?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If you're pinning your hopes on private money to build nuclear power plants you're going to be disappointed.

      Nukes are a horrible investment for a private company. They take forever and a day to build and start recouping your investment, they require massive up front capital expenditures, and the nuke industry has shown nearly no ability to build them on time or on budget. Which is why nuclear power plants stopped being built in the US years before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The only country which has

      • They take forever and a day partially because of the administrative costs of building the plant. As I understand it, regulations, insurance, and whatnot contribute a significant amount to the cost.

        • by nomadic (141991)
          "They take forever and a day partially because of the administrative costs of building the plant. As I understand it, regulations, insurance, and whatnot contribute a significant amount to the cost."

          But a lot more because of the incredible building costs, which won't vanish even if those evil statist governments throw out all safety requirements.
      • I want privately operated power plants

        Bolded for your pleasure.

      • They take forever and a day to build and start recouping your investment, they require massive up front capital expenditures, and the nuke industry has shown nearly no ability to build them on time or on budget.

        Part of that (not all, but a significant part) is the lawsuits that inevitably arise whenever an anti-nuke group hears that a nuclear power plant has been proposed.

        It's hard to get something done on time when you're constantly fighting off lawsuits rather than actually, you know, building a power pl

    • by ilguido (1704434)

      Well, I want privately operated power plants with new types of design, that's what I want all over the place. I want private money being allowed into the field, letting up on the government regulations, I want a tiny nuclear reactor in my house and in my car and at some point in my lightsaber, how about that?

      Do not delude youself.
      Tepco knew that the Fukushima plant had serious design flaws from the start, but they chose to operate it nonetheless to not lose money, they even operated it beyond its projected lifespan to maximize their revenue.
      At Chernobyl an ambitious and inexpert junior chief engineer tried to run an experiment for his personal prestige, while the senior chief engineer was absent. The very old design of the plant made the rest.
      The worst industrial accident of all times is still the Bhopal di

      • If security and safety can be made critical parts of the profit making equation, greed is wonderfully compatible with security and safety.

        The airline industry, for instance.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:47AM (#37339420)

    I had a friend who was actually considering buying a radiation detector back when this was in the news (he lives in Virginia, mind you). Of course, this is the same friend who also thought bird-flu/SARS/the West Nile Virus/ebola were going to sweep the world in a pandemic and Y2K was going to cause all our computers to explode. Some people are always looking for a reason to panic.

    • by dintech (998802) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:52AM (#37339492)

      Some people are always looking for a reason to panic.

      On no! Who!? Tell me, quickly!

    • by yourlord (473099)

      I find it comical that this post was made by someone with the following as their signature, "If humanity is to survive, we must pledge to eliminate all carbon dioxide from our atmosphere by 2030"

      Panic much? I hope that sig is a joke..

      My trees would all cry if they knew of your insidious plot to suffocate them.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      Sounds like my dad. It wasn't until I started living on my own that I realized it wasn't normal to have a year's stock of canned foods that no one ever eats in the pantry.

      My dad actually told my mom that he didn't want to recarpet the house, but that "if we're still here after 2012, we'll look into it then."

      Needless to say, my dad is a nutjob. (Just part of the reason I don't talk to him anymore.)

      • It wasn't until I started living on my own that I realized it wasn't normal to have a year's stock of canned foods that no one ever eats in the pantry.

        I gather you're not a mormon, then? They're required to keep a year's supply of (relatively) non-perishable food on hand, as I recall.

      • My dad actually told my mom that he didn't want to recarpet the house, but that "if we're still here after 2012, we'll look into it then."

        Maybe he was thinking about moving in 2011.

    • The Japanese are forcing their kids to live in contaminated areas as part of an unprecedented experiment, while jackasses like yourself try to play the whole thing as some kind of comical joke. Well, on behalf of the victims of the accident, including myself, fuck you.

      Just keep thinking nothing like this could ever happen in your backyard . . . just fucking keep thinking that . . .
    • I had a friend who was actually considering buying a radiation detector back when this was in the news (he lives in Virginia, mind you). Of course, this is the same friend who also thought bird-flu/SARS/the West Nile Virus/ebola were going to sweep the world in a pandemic and Y2K was going to cause all our computers to explode. Some people are always looking for a reason to panic.

      Eh, I know it's all just over-reaction and people freaking out. I've never caved into any of it.

      However, whenever something like that comes up I wonder for a few minutes about 2 things.
      1 - I should probably put together my "bug-out bag."
      I used to have one a while back with some some basic emergency stuff in case I have to leave the house. Some cash, flashlight + batteries, emergency blanket, and some things I'd replace every so often like protein bars / water bottles / glow sticks. Just in case I need to

  • by debrain (29228) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @08:57AM (#37339538) Journal

    The Stackexchange Skeptics web-site has a relatively thorough and well cited wiki, Is Japan's nuclear disaster "on par" with Chernobyl [stackexchange.com]), that compares the two disasters using a number of objective metrics.

    It seems fairly apparent based on that wiki that while Fukushima is a serious nuclear event, it is a fraction of the calamity that Chernobyl was, using the available objective data.

    • When new estimates are constantly coming out [nhk.or.jp]. And, "available objective data?" You have never fucking heard of TEPCO, have you?

      I think anyone seriously trying to do comparisons at this point is clueless, especially when radioactive particles are continuously spewing out from the Fukushima site at rates that can only be guesstimated.
      • by debrain (29228) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @10:39AM (#37340752) Journal

        Sir –

        With all due respect, your comments are not helpful.

        The link you refer to does not shed any new light on the situation. In particular, it gives a "new estimate" of approximately 15,0000 terabecquerels being released from Fukushima between April and May. The wiki cites 770,000 terabecquerels since the explosion in March, 2011. The reference you have provided is significantly narrower temporal scope than that referred to in the wiki of significantly lower quantum (i.e. is not a "new estimate" of any merit). Please, in future, at least give a reference that advances your point.

        Your point is unstated, but I speculate to be something like: the Fukushima disaster will be bigger than we estimated when we look back on it in the future. Alternatively, perhaps you're simply suggesting that we should do nothing because the data will never be good enough. In either case, I find it hard to imagine that in the future we'll be able to improve on the measurements that were taken back in March-July of 2011.

        Second, I'm not sure what alternative you propose to "available objective data". Perhaps you forgot to elaborate on why TEPCO is relevant. The references from the wiki do not seem to source data from TEPCO, if that is what you were alluding to.

        While you may think comparisons at this point are done by the "clueless", I believe such a conclusion is wrong for at least two reasons. First, the comparison puts into a useful context the information we have. Second, for posterity we shall have the opportunity to illuminate our errors. That the information we have is difficult to quantify or of questionable quality may certainly be an issue, but it requires a brazen or nihilistic cynicism to dismiss it as useless and those who use it as "clueless".

        I respectfully suggest as well that you may have missed the point of wikis such as the one linked. It is a community driven publishing system that can be updated at will in response to new information. In this particular case, the wiki also clearly states that this article is about a current event and the article may change in response to new information. Thus, a criticism seeming to be that the data is incomplete or incorrect is not really a relevant consideration, since the wiki was designed with the ability to incorporate that new data as it becomes available (and if better data does not become available, we are no worse off). The wiki provides us with not just the ability to make the comparison with what we know today, but to update the comparison with what we may know tomorrow. It is preferable to work with something today that'll give us structure and historical reference in the future rather than nothing at all.

        All to say, your criticism is unclear, your citation is not useful, your conclusions are misguided. I'll say nothing of the tone I perceive and language you use, other than to suggest you may have issues with attitude and maturity, though that is speculative.

        As you may infer, it took much more effort to address your concerns than it probably did for you to crack them off. Perhaps you should consider the consequences of your comments before you make such a post. You've added nothing to the discussion, you needlessly distract from useful conclusions and valuable efforts with misinformation, and you've wasted my time writing a constructive response. You could do us all a favour next time, and refrain from posting in such poor form.

  • by RobinEggs (1453925) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @09:15AM (#37339714)
    People who don't understand and don't want to will view it as ample reason to oppose every new nuclear plant for *another* 40 years.

    Never mind that Fukushima, as a BWR-type reactor, was designed in 1955 and that a new reactor would have practically nothing in common but the presence of uranium and steam. Never mind that a pebble bed reactor could, as far as I understand it, be left completely un-managed for months at a time or suffer a complete core breach and still be incapable of reaching the level of contamination caused by Fukushima.

    No, nuclear power is bad. We need to wait for biological engineering or material physics or fuzzy starshine power to advance to the point where we can construct new capacity for $0.05/watt with no environmental impact and no space requirements. Huzzah!
    • by snowgirl (978879)

      People who don't understand and don't want to will view it as ample reason to oppose every new nuclear plant for *another* 40 years.

      Or worse, in a country that gets a significant part of their energy from nuclear power already, will backpedal, and close down all their nuclear plants and become "nuclear-free"!

      • I didn't realize you were German snowgirl....
      • Talking to a Siemens engineer last week, I got told that we had a peak renewable rate of about 30% of inland use during a few days with exceptional conditions these years. Meaning that basically all our nuke power got exported during that time. Well, the field is growing well. Looking forward to exporting wind power to France when their nukes fuck off in summer because the rivers are too hot - as happens every year. You can wallow in your hatred of renewables as long as you want, it is the coming thing. Bu
    • by mbone (558574)

      Never mind that Fukushima, as a BWR-type reactor, was designed in 1955 and that a new reactor would have practically nothing in common but the presence of uranium and steam. Never mind that a pebble bed reactor could, as far as I understand it, be left completely un-managed for months at a time or suffer a complete core breach and still be incapable of reaching the level of contamination caused by Fukushima.

      I agree. Given that, why in the hell was TEPCO continuing to run 55 year old gear ? Why were the old

  • Japanese Glasnost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @09:16AM (#37339716)

    In my opinion, after a initial period of secrecy, the Soviet Union did a lot better job with openness and communication on Chernobyl than the Japanese Government / TEPCO is doing with Fukushima.

    That should say something to the Japanese Government, but I fear it will not.

    • Japan has a culture of denial, in some ways. The fact that they're not talking more doesn't mean they're worse than a conspiratorial communist government or that they don't care about environmental or human impact.

      I realize there are some serious downsides to being so reticent, but don't assume it's automatically and always better to be more open. That's just cultural imperialism talking.
      • by mbone (558574)

        If it is cultural imperialism to believe that truth is better than lies, than so be it.

        • Have fun not understanding 95% of the population of the planet. Or even better, wasting your time trying to force them to think the way you do.

          You desperately need to take a basic anthropology course. The belief in an absolute right and wrong, appropriate for all people in all places at all times, is completely laughable.
          • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday September 08, 2011 @10:52AM (#37340912)

            Have fun not understanding 95% of the population of the planet.

            If they would rather spread around lies, then me not understanding them is probably more a consequence of that than anything I've done, don't you think?

            The belief in an absolute right and wrong, appropriate for all people in all places at all times, is completely laughable.

            If the purpose of communication is to exchange information, then there is no question that the truth is better than a lie. But if you'd prefer to use communication to manipulate people, then I'd happily tell you that's absolutely wrong. I don't care if you'd call me a cultural imperialist, since we've already established that there is no truth in what you say anyway.

          • by jafac (1449)

            When it comes to radioactive contamination, and public health and safety, then yes, truth is always better than lies.
            Fuck your "95% of the population of the planet" and their "culture of modesty".
            In both eye-sockets.

            There is a time and a place for anthropology, and a time and place for basic fucking health and safety and survival, and human dignity in not being pissed on and being told it's raining.

    • by tp1024 (2409684)
      Exactly what secrecy are you talking about in the case of TEPCO? So far they have released all information as soon as it could be verified.

      Even if the Soviet Union had indeed been more open than TEPCO (which it wasn't), there are still those little matters like evacuating people 40 hours after the content of a reactor had been blown all over them vs. evacuating them 80 hours before any significant amount of radioactivity was released at all.

      Then there is stuff like complaining about some 30 people being
    • Mod parent up! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Idou (572394) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @10:36AM (#37340724) Journal
      I was there when it happened and left for this very reason (at significant cost to my finances and career). It took 3 months for them to confirm rumors that the reactors had melted down, and the rumors these days are that steam is coming from cracks in the ground.

      I think, in the end, the USSR did not feel like it needed to play PR games with the public. The government already had complete control, so they had no reason to lie at a certain point. However, PR is everything for the nuclear lobby in Japan, which may be the most powerful group in the country (remember, Japan is not just the #1 exporter of nuclear reactors, they are the ONLY exporter). Any little fact that gets denied, delayed, or manipulated results in either additional profit made or saved. Accordingly, I do not consider the reports coming out of Japan as facts, just measuring points for where the tip of the iceberg is.
  • by tp1024 (2409684) on Thursday September 08, 2011 @09:36AM (#37339982)
    The problem I have with Fukushima is that the only criticisms of the safety mechanisms of the plant referred to two things: namely the lack of tsunami protection and the how people dealt with the aftermath. Otherwise it was stressed that Japan is a modern country with state-of-the-art technology. But those were literally the least of the problems. The whole Japanese coast in the area had tsunami protection after the devastating tsunamis of 1933 and 1896 ... which was overwhelmed, wiping a dozen towns off the coast. Either you criticize all of Japan in that regard, or none of it. And the way people are dealing with the aftermath is of much less concern than they dealt with safety before the accident.

    In fact, Fukushima Daiichi could be found on the third last position in a world wide safety ranking of nuclear power plants in 2010. (Mostly concerned with on-site radioactivity that was pretty high due to leaks.) It lacked emergency generators (13 generators for 6 reactors - I've seen 12 generators in place for one reactor. At least 4 per reactor is common). It lacked redundancy in those generators. They were all the same kind of sea-water cooled diesel generators. And because of the latter, they lacked protection against common cause failure, which demands that you distribute emergency equipment over as wide an area as possible ... which is obviously very limited if you have fixed installations dependent on sea water.

    It also lacked filtered containment vents. Those filters can filter out at least 99% of the Caesium and Iodine (I remember a figure of 99.99% but don't know if it was Cs-137 or I-131). It's somewhat expensive (although just a fraction of the cost of the whole plant), but was adopted in Europe in the 1980ies. Further, safety protocols didn't take account of the finding that the Mark I containment didn't properly seal in a test at a prototype plant at a pressure of about 70 bar. (In emergencies it is supposed to be tight up to 72 bar, but regular testing is only done up to 62 bar.) Which was what allowed the massive quantities of hydrogen to get into the buildings in the first place.

    Finally, because hydrogen getting into the buildings couldn't be ruled out in 100% of the cases during simulations, at least European plants were equipped with passive autocatalytic recombiners in all closed rooms of the reactor building. Those are catalytic converters that burn hydrogen with oxygen in the air before it can reach concentrations in the buildings, where it can ignite and either burn or (as we've seen) explode. Those are pretty cheap (about $5 mio per reactor bulding) and were installed in the 1990ies.

    None of what happened was a surprise to anyone who dug out the freely available descriptions and research on the safety of the Mark I containment after the earthquake. But of course, that is something that the media couldn't be bothered with. Because they are "reporters" and as such doing research or actually understanding what they are reporting is clearly beneath them. All that reporters are there for, is to "report" (that is: parrot) the statements of politicians and whatever "experts" they feel will give them the answers they want.

    Overall, the containments used in Fukushima are a great demonstration of what engineers of the 1960ies could do. They did a remarkable job in preventing a major disaster like Chernobyl. But it also shows what happens when you ignore all further developments. There were flaws in the models of what happens during a meltdown that became obvious only years or decades after the development of those containments. In engineering on the one hand and in radiology on the other - namely, that the dangers of I-131 were under-appreciated until about that time. (Exposure limits were cut down to about one thousands of the previous limits some time in the late 1960ies.)

    But given the way reporting was and is being done, nothing of that will ever be known to a wide audience - because it doesn't square with the scare
  • The map featured in the Nature is quite misleading. Both maps use the same colors to indicate severity but the actual Cesium levels are quite different. The corresponding colors on the map of Chernobyl represent a far greater range. If the color coding had been applied consistently it would show that Fukushima is much less severe than Chernobyl. But then that would contrast with tone of the article.

    Not to downplay the seriousness of the situation, but the Fukushima event has been blown out of proportion. It

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