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A look at the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters

A look at the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters thumbnail

Japan this month (March) marked the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster with a series of sombre remembrance ceremonies across the country.

At 2.46pm local time (1.46pm in Singapore) on March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck under the Pacific Ocean, triggering a 10 metre wall of water that devastated the north-eastern coast of Japan. It caused meltdowns in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) Nuclear Power Plant in the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986.

Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy in April, The Straits Times takes a close-up look at both disasters.


Fukushima: Some 18,500 people died or are still missing from the earthquake and tsunami.
Another 470,000 people were evacuated due to the nuclear fallout. They include those who live within a 20km radius from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, as well as residents living in areas around 30km away. Some 100,000 remain displaced till today.

Chernobyl: About 116,000 people were evacuated within three weeks of the accident which was caused by a flawed reactor design. The plant was located in Soviet Ukraine, 20km south of the border with Belarus. More than 220,000 people from Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine have since been resettled in the less contaminated areas.


Fukushima: Over 300,000 people below 18 have been screened for thyroid cancer with about 150 testing positive. Some experts have put this down to a result of more rigorous testing rather than the direct impact of radiation. Last October, Japan confirmed the first case of radiation-linked cancer for a former worker of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 power plant .

Chernobyl: Immediate casualties included firefighters battling the initial explosion and fires. Although the fires were put out in a few hours, radiation doses on the first day spiked to 20,000 millisieverts (mSv), about 8,000 times more than the average dose of 2.4 mSv of natural background radiation people are exposed to in a year, causing 28 deaths by end-July 1986. Six of them were firemen.

By 2000, about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer had been diagnosed in children who were exposed to the radioactive fallout. But a United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation report the same year also noted that besides the increase in cases of thyroid cancer, “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 14 years after the accident”. By 2005, 15 people who were exposed to high radiation died from thyroid cancer.


Fukushima: Dozens of nuclear reactors were shuttered after the March 2011 disaster, and efforts to get them restarted have become entangled in a web of lawsuits amid public fears.

As of today, there are only two operating nuclear reactors in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in March that Japan “cannot do without nuclear power” as his country turns to liquefied natural gas in record quantities to make up for lost nuclear capacity. Before Fukushima, Japan got almost 30 per cent of its electricity from nuclear. The Abe administration aims have nuclear energy supply meet at least 22 per cent of Japan’s power needs by 2030.

In February, three former utility executives from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which owns the stricken power plant in Fukushima, were charged with negligence. They were the first to face criminal charges over the disaster.  Prosecutors alleged Tepco knew it was possible the plant could be hit by a tsunami bigger than it was designed to withstand, but chose to ignore long-term safety in order to save costs. Tepco’s internal calculation in 2008 was that a 15.7-metre tsunami could hit the plant, yet it built a plant that could withstand only a 5.7 m wall of water.  Tepco has argued that the risk of such a tsunami was so low that it was “outside the realm of realistic possibilities”.

Chernobyl: There were four reactors at the Chernobyl plant, the last of which was shut down only in 2000 under immense international pressure.
This schedule was  agreed during a visit by then-US President Bill Clinton to the Ukraine capital of Kiev that year. Reactor 4 was where the 1986 accident happened, while reactor 2 was put offline due to a fire in 1991. Reactors 1 and 3 were capable of producing electricity and due to Ukraine’s dependence on nuclear power, continued operations until 1996 and 2000 respectively.

A large area of the 4,200 sq km exclusion zone remains out of bounds, including the well-documented town of Pripyat. Tour groups can travel up to within 300 m of the destroyed reactor, which reportedly still emits more than 25 times what is the normal background radiation levels despite being cocooned within a concrete enclosure called a sarcophagus.

Geiger counters monitor the radiation levels in a cafeteria which serves tourists and the estimated 6,000 people who still work within the exclusion zone. Anyone exiting the radioactive areas has to undergo radiation inspection points. The job of the workers is to build a new 20,000-tonne steel cocoon called the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, which is scheduled to be completed by 2017. The new enclosure is necessary because existing controls cannot sufficiently contain the radiation. It costs S$3.1 billion, and will likely contain the radiation for 100 years.

The Straits Times     

8 Comments on "A look at the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters"

  1. makati1 on Mon, 28th Mar 2016 8:36 pm 

    “..and will likely contain the radiation for 100 years.” Or not. In 100 years there will be little life on earth to protect. Humans will be gone along with all life bigger than a bacteria, virus, or maybe, small insects.

  2. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 28th Mar 2016 10:40 pm 

    Blow up Fukushima with a hydrogen fusion bomb. Enough of this stupid ‘water tank farm’ and people pretending to clean it up.

    Here is how you clean it up:

    And the fallout? Just make sure its blowing towards North Korea.

    And the big mushroom cloud? Hell’s bells, sell tickets, lots of ’em. Make a big profit. Now it’s Miller Time.

  3. Practicalmaina on Mon, 28th Mar 2016 11:01 pm 

    Makati didn’t you say billions would survive this morning. Japanese have been exposed to more radiation than a majority of the world. It will hopefully be used as a learning experience as Japan suffers. Notice how generous the UN committee was. Unless a tumor.pops up as the fallout alarm is ringing, they won’t quite make the connection.

  4. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 12:46 am 

    Blow up Fukushima. Fun for the whole family. They used to sell tickets to head-on steam engine train wrecks. Ka-Blam! Now do it nuclear style. Fight fire with fire.

    Use only under adult supervision. Do not hold in hand. Light fuse and get away.

  5. makati1 on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 7:25 am 

    Billions not near nuclear plants, yes. The rest, including most of the Us, no.

    Look at a map of the world’s nuclear reactors for a good idea of who will and who will not.

  6. Kenz300 on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 8:20 am 

    Fukushima Should Have Served as Wake-Up Call for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    7 Top NRC Experts Break Ranks to Warn of Critical Danger at Aging Nuke Plants

  7. Kenz300 on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 8:21 am 

    Nuclear energy is poisoning the planet…………

    5 Years After Fukushima, ‘No End in Sight’ to Ecological Fallout

  8. Kenz300 on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 8:54 am 

    Wind and solar power are safer, cleaner and cheaper ways to produce electricity……… and they do not require huge amounts of water to generate electricity…

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