The Difference Between Fukushima and Chernobyl
On April 26, 1986, the former Soviet Union suffered an unrivaled nuclear disaster, Chernobyl. It was the worst nuclear power plant incident in history, until January 2011. The International Nuclear Event Scale classified Chernobyl as a level seven, the maximum classification, and it wasn’t until twenty-five years later that another level seven disaster would occur.
Following a major earthquake in January 2011, the Japanese nuclear reactor, Fukushima Daiichi, suffered massive damage due to a tsunami, which destroyed the emergency generators responsible for cooling the plant’s fission reactors. Straight Talk MD host, Dr. Frank Sweeny welcomed Dr. Kai Vetter, Head of the Applied Physics Program at the University of California, Berkeley and Head of the Applied Nuclear Physics program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to speak on the incident. Dr. Vetter clarified a number of issues surrounding the disaster, including the key differences between the world’s only two level seven nuclear tragedies, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Dr. Vetter began by explaining that Chernobyl was caused by human error, and extreme mismanagement after the incident only exacerbated the devastating effects. Containment is the chief concern in the event of a nuclear disaster. The Soviet government did not release an official statement, and it wasn’t until Swedish scientists and authorities pressed the matter that their Soviet counterparts admitted a nuclear accident had occurred. City-wide evacuations and warnings against local food consumption were never disseminated. Because of the breakdown in protocol, long-term health consequences in the area persist to this day.
Alternatively, Fukushima was not caused by human error, but by a natural disaster. A tsunami was the catalyst, but the response to the disaster is what differentiates it from Chernobyl. Dr. Vetter does an exceptional job of illustrating the role of public policy/management in nuclear disasters, which is the difference between isolated versus massive casualties over time. Japanese authorities have provided an example of how to properly manage a nuclear incident.