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Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

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Fukushima Is Kind of Like Chernobyl After All

4/12/2011 12:53:11 PM

Tags: Fukushima, Chernobyl, nuclear energy, nuclear power, nuclear accident, radiation, health, oceans, Grist, environment, Keith Goetzman

Fukushima blast aftermath 

Before the extent of Japan’s nuclear crisis had even become clear—in fact, before the aftershocks had ended—nuclear apologists were rushing forth to point out that the Fukushima incident was no Chernobyl. Some of them were pointing out, correctly, that the two disasters were very different in their particulars—one was caused by human negligence and error, one by a tsunami, the reactor designs are different, etc.—but others were effectively saying, don’t worry, they’re simply not in the same ballpark.

Well, the latter group of prognosticators can eat their words. The Japanese nuclear regulatory agency has revised the severity of the Fukushima accident so that it is now ranked equal to Chernobyl on the International Nuclear and Radiation Event scale. Yes, more people were killed immediately in the Chernobyl meltdown, and in it more radiation was released—if we’re to believe what we’re being told by Japan’s nuclear spokesmen, that is—but under the nuke industry’s own rating system, the two events are now in the same category: The worst.

Grist’s Jess Zimmerman is still intent on delineating the differences between the incidents (even though that’s been done extensively), and unfortunately she does so under the CNN-worthy headline “How much should you panic?”

Well, I’m not panicking: Like many environmentalists, my own skin is not always my foremost concern. But I am worried for the many Japanese people who are and will be affected, for the sea ecosystems that will be polluted, and by the ongoing sense that this tragic story is still unfolding. 

Sources: BBC, Grist, Pro Publica 

Image by daveeza, licensed under Creative Commons. 



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Post a comment below.

 

leila
4/18/2011 11:15:18 PM
Tell the sealife outside Japan not to panic. Tell the cows in the US producing milk with radiation in it not to panic.Tell the dolphins washing up dead on the Gulf not to panic.Don't panic, just pay the CEOs more bonuses for good safety records. The Bigwigs keep counting their gold as the world gets sicker and sicker and dies. But I'm not going to panic.

Edmund Murray
4/18/2011 9:48:28 AM
As I understand it Chernyobl was worse than this, thus far, by a factor of ten. All the panic being induced is by the media trying to out hype their competitors. Its sad how science illiterate the public is.

Pete Hart
4/18/2011 9:04:53 AM
Why are the only choices panicking or not giving a crap because we've been told nuclear power is safe for years? Using the word 'panic' conjures up images of packing everything you can fit into your vehicle and fleeing mindlessly. I realize that Keith is aware of this, but what of the rest of our media and Washington? In some ways the Fukushima incident is worse than Chernobyl because many will try to pretend that everything's hunky-dory except for an almost permanent evacuation zone around the area and in a few months it will be written off as a once in a millennium accident that couldn't happen here.



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