Chernobyl to Fukushima: Lessons Learned and Safety Impacts

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Some Historical Facts Related to Chernobyl Disaster

Chernobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 in nuclear reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Soviet Ukraine.

The accident happened during a late-night safety test which prompted a station blackout power-failure, due to which emergency safety and power-regulating systems were intentionally turned off. Chernobyl disaster was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel, eventually resulting in uncontrolled reaction conditions.

A chain reaction began after the reactor vessel broke during a power surge resulting in a series of steam explosions. The resulting fire carried the radioactive material into the atmosphere and spread across a vast area.

Two Chernobyl plant workers died on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people died within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning. It’s considered the most chaotic nuclear disaster accident in the history, both in relation to cost and casualties and is also classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

No. 4 reactor remains were surrounded with a large cover named the 'Object Shelter' or 'sarcophagus', for further reducing the spread of the remaining radioactive dust and limiting the radioactive contamination. The sarcophagus was not built to function as a radiation shield but, was constructed quickly as an occupational safety for the crew members, unintentionally, of other unharmed reactors at the station.

A risk analysis report from 2007, supported by DNA biomarkers, showed that the people living unofficially in the rural areas near evacuated zone will have a much lower risk of dying due to the elevated doses of radiation if they get exposed to the health risk related to air pollution in a large city.
According to the Professor of Risk Management at University of Bristol, Philip Thomas, 75% of the relocation was unfair to the 335,000 people relocated after the Chernobyl accident affecting the life expectancy of the victims.

Some Historical Facts Related to Fukushima Disaster

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster occurred on 11th March 2011 initiated by the tsunami succeeding the Tōhoku earthquake, resulting in cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors. The active reactors were automatically shut down, immediately after the earthquake, stopping the sustained fission reactions. However, this disturbance due to tsunami also disabled the emergency generators that were to be used as to control and run the pumps obligatory to cool the reactors.
This further led towards three nuclear meltdowns, some hydrogen air explosions and release of radioactive debris in Units 1, 2 and 3 from 12 to 15 March. This was the most noticeable nuclear incident after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the second disaster to be classified as the Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), on July 5th,2012, found that causes of the incident were predictable and also that the plant operator failed to fulfill the basic safety requirements, for example risk assessment, preparing for containing any damages and developing emergency evacuation plans. The report also found that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was incapable of withstanding the earthquake and tsunami.

Although the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation of United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) stated that there will not be any physical or genetic disorders in the babies born after the accident, an estimated amount of 1,600 deaths had been believed to occur due to the extremely poor ad hoc evacuation conditions.

The ongoing intensive Fukushima disaster cleanup program will take some estimating 30 or 40 years according to the plant management. Fukushima disaster cleanup program is proceeding with a frozen soil barrier that has been built as an action to prevent and slow down the further poisoning of seeping groundwater for now.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) stated that almost about 95 tonnes of water flow is reduced per day by the barrier. The water collected is treated and all radioactive elements are successfully removed, except for tritium.

Lessons Learned and Safety Impacts from Chernobyl and Fukushima

Total isolation of the plants

Before the incidents, these plants were easily accessible to the staff and workers of the plant. But after the disaster, only authorized people could go for a visit. Only limited access was allowed to spend inside of the affected area for a specific time.

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These drastic accidents caused a stir in the government to bring and enforce more accurate and regulatory laws suits and legislations. As a result, the Joint Protocol Relating to the Application of the Vienna Convention and the Paris Convention (Joint Protocol) was adopted after the Chernobyl accident. The 1997 Protocol to Amend the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (VC Protocol) was started as a second response to Chernobyl. The 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (Supplementary Compensation Convention) was started as a Third Response to Chernobyl. Some large-scale policy changes, after the Fukushima disaster, includes the establishment of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) under the Ministry of the Environment, independent of the ministry promoting nuclear power generation; the promotion of alternative energy resources; the development of criteria for re-commissioning nuclear plants; and the limit set on plant lifetime.

Serious health issues

Small term as well as longer term health effects are observed by a significant increase of carcinomas of the thyroid glands amongst infants and children exposed at the time of the accident in the contaminated regions of the former Soviet Union.

Mandatory use of PPEs

Use of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) and specified clothing codes were made mandatory and authorized people going for the investigation and research were advised strictly to follow these measures to prevent any kind of health hazards.

Accidents still happen

Accidents do happen and the worst case scenarios sometimes turn out to be worse than that we are prepared for. Although the public is assured by the nuclear industry about it being safe, the plants proceed on with having accidents, exceeding worst-case projections.

Nuclear power just provides heat

Nuclear power is extremely expensive, highly complex and dangerous way of producing heat energy. It only provides a high-tech and extremely dangerous way to boil water just to create the steam to turn turbines on and nothing else.

Unpredictability even after experts handling

Unpredictable incidents in nuclear industry still occur even after a planned programme and project is handled by their highly professional experts. Although the Fukushima disaster was primarily the result of an earthquake and tsunami, the experts did not plan for the combination of a 9.0 earthquake and the larger scale tsunami that followed.

Government maintenance for public safety

Government lacks the effectiveness to maintain the regulatory procedures related to the nuclear industry for the safety of public.

Deadly mixture of Hubris, complacency and high-level radiation

Extreme self confidence of the experts and its government regulators, of the nuclear industry, along with the self satisfaction on the part of public, have led to the formation of major amounts of high-level radiation that must be shielded from release in the environment for thousands of decades, far longer than civilization even existed.

Disastrous fails of designs

Nuclear power plants can fail drastically, causing a huge damage to humans and our environment. Also this causes a vast economic burden on the public because of the liability protection from the government for economic failure to the corporations operating these power plants, saving the corporations from the financial damage. It’s a threat to health, safety and environment.

Released radiations can never be stopped

Radiations released from disastrous nuclear accidents cannot be controlled in a space and will spread over international borders, as the highly stable radioactive materials will be carried away by the wind around the world, also affecting the people and environment of many countries and regions. The oceans (the common heritage of humankind) of the world will also get affected by these radiations.

Never ending effects

Apart from controlling the radiation in a space, controlling these radiations to stop the damages in time is far more difficult to be done, which means that it will be effecting the future generations adversely for decades.

Risk factor will always exist for future catastrophes

Nuclear energy, and also the nuclear weapons, and human beings can never co-exist without having the risk of any future disasters. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb have long known that the nuclear weapons and human beings cannot co-exist.

Wake-up call to phase out nuclear energy

The accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl are a signal to lessen up the use of nuclear energy and increase the use of renewable energy for the well being of humans and environment leading towards energy conservation. Recently, the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, was passed on 7th July 2017, under the Relationship Agreement between the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)3

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