Fukushima Is Not Chernobyl
In the wake of the horrific March 11 earthquake and subsequent nuclear power plant accidents in Japan, environmentalists have been chomping at the bit to use this opportunity to relegate nuclear power to the dustbin of history.
The Japanese earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi power plant explosions were a double propaganda victory for greens, because it allowed them to not only bash nuclear power but also blame the earthquake on global warming.
Cameramen captured a dramatic explosion at Fukushima Unit 1 on Saturday that left the top of the reactor building exposed. A similar explosion took place at Unit 3 on Sunday. Mainstream media news outlets have been tossing around the comparison of Fukushima to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion and radiation leakage in 1986.
In fact, Fukushima is nothing like Chernobyl, for the same reason modern-day Japan is nothing like the late Soviet Union. The former is far more technologically advanced and better run, thus capable of anticipating and mitigating the effects of high-tech disasters.
The level of uninformed hysteria over Fukushima recalls the ignorant cries bandied about after 9/11 that terrorists in this country might try to set off a nuclear explosion at a power plant (which is physically impossible).
According to scientists who understand the physics of nuclear power generation, the construction of the Fukushima plants, and the nature of the explosion, there has not and will never be any harmful level of radioactivity released into the environment.
The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi and the neighboring Daini plant were programmed to go into automatic shutdown at the first sign of an earthquake 1/5 the size of the one that happened, which is exactly what they did. The plants were designed to withstand high seismicity zones, due to the prevalence of earthquakes in Japan.
The type of radioactive isotopes that were manually released in a cloud of steam prior to the explosions to help cool the reactors have a half-life of seconds, meaning that by the time they hit the air around the plant they had broken into benign, virtually non-radioactive particles far less dangerous than the radiation you would get from, say, being full body scanned by the TSA. In addition, the prevailing winds have been blowing any minute bits of extant radiation out to sea.
The external shell of the plant whose top was blown off was not a containment device for radiation, which means that the only thing workers will have to worry about from not having a roof is rain failing on their bento boxes.
Japan’s nuclear power plants are so advanced, so thoroughly designed to accommodate any level of unexpected disturbance, so replete with backup capacities to compensate for one failed system after another, that there were several layers of components that could have failed but didn’t—and the plants’ security measures still would have prevented a catastrophe.
Japanese authorities evacuated residents within a two-kilometer radius, then three kilometers, then 10, then 20, all well before the manual release of radiation and explosions.
On the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) scale, which ranges from 0 (deviation) to 7 (major accident), authorities rated Fukushima only a 4 or “accident with local consequences”—which puts me in mind of the crazy driver who overturned a World Wide Tours bus on a Bronx freeway last weekend and killed 14 people. (No, wait—that’s far more people than were killed at Fukushima. The Bronx accident was much worse.)
The Fukushima accidents have more in common with the Three Mile Island non-disaster of 1979, which liberals used to cripple nuclear power production for the next three decades, than it does with Chernobyl. Three Mile Island was rated a 5 on the INES scale; Chernobyl was a 7.
In the case of Chernobyl, the problem was not the existence of a competently run nuclear power plant, but the ineptitude and dishonesty of the Soviet system, which prefigured the plant’s sloppy design and incompetent management, and the cover-up that delayed damage containment. In addition, the type of severe explosion that happened at Chernobyl did not happen at Fukushima.
In contrast to the frantic, appalled coverage of lethal floods, fires, and chaos resulting from the earthquake and its aftershocks, there is no evidence of a hair being harmed on the head of a single Japanese person not working in the plants.
The expected death toll from earthquake-related damage is 10,000. The expected death toll from radioactivity released from Fukushima is 0.
About a dozen workers were injured by the explosions at Fukushima Units 1 and 3; one died indirectly as a result of a crane accident. But hundreds of thousands of workers worldwide are injured by explosions, malfunctioning machinery, and construction accidents every year, in all kinds of industries from building to drilling to mining. There is nothing uniquely monstrous about a pair of nuclear power plants wounding a handful of unfortunate workers in a rare incident.
Far more people have died in Japan as a result of the earthquake’s causing buildings to collapse, bridges to crumble, and tsunami waves to wipe out beachside resorts. Should we ban buildings, bridges, and beachside resorts?
Nuclear power remains—notwithstanding poorly designed and managed plants like Chernobyl—the safest, cleanest, most efficient method of power production mankind has ever devised. Fukushima does not change that fact.