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An informed negative view on long-term danger from Fukushima [ClearOnMoney]
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An informed negative view on long-term danger from Fukushima

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Commentary

An informed negative view on long-term danger from Fukushima

25 Mar 2011 by Jim Fickett.

The most negative headlines on Fukushima come mainly from reporters who have very little understanding of radioactivity and are not able to judge the real risks. But today Naked Capitalism points to a solid article in New Scientist which reports that, in at least some respects, spills so far at Fukushima might be comparable to those from Chernobyl. On the one hand, there has been no direct release of fuel, as there was in the core fire of Chernobyl, and most releases have blown out to sea, rather than over population centers. On the other hand, there is far more total fuel at Fukushima than there was at Chernobyl, and airborne releases of radioactive iodine and cesium may be of comparable volume.

Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.

The difference between this accident and Chernobyl, they say, is that at Chernobyl a huge fire released large amounts of many radioactive materials, including fuel particles, in smoke. At Fukushima Daiichi, only the volatile elements, such as iodine and caesium, are bubbling off the damaged fuel. But these substances could nevertheless pose a significant health risk outside the plant. …

the Fukushima plant has around 1760 tonnes of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site, and an unknown amount has been damaged. The Chernobyl reactor had only 180 tonnes.

The amounts being released, he says, are “entirely consistent” with the relatively low amounts of caesium and iodine being measured in soil, plants and water in Japan, because so much has blown out to sea. The amounts crossing the Pacific to places like Sacramento are vanishingly small – they were detected there because the CTBT network is designed to sniff out the tiniest traces. Dangerous isotopes

The Chernobyl accident emitted much more radioactivity and a wider diversity of radioactive elements than Fukushima Daiichi has so far, but it was iodine and caesium that caused most of the health risk – especially outside the immediate area of the Chernobyl plant, says Malcolm Crick, secretary of a United Nations body that has just reviewed the health effects of Chernobyl. Unlike other elements, he says, they were carried far and wide by the wind.

Better hope the weather continues to cooperate, then.