Worst Nuclear Disasters in History - Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Disaster

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Fukushima Dai-ichi 2011

No one could have predicted the chain reaction of events that would occur from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit off the northeast coast of Japan, early afternoon on March 11, 2011. In the wake of the most powerful earthquake Japan has experienced in over 130 years, came one of the most devastating tsunami's in the 21st century. Either of these catastrophe's would have been enough to ravage a nation, but adding insult to injury is the additional threat of a nuclear radiation disaster that could rival that of Chernobyl.

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Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant Explosions

Explosion at nuclear plant

In the wake of the catastrophic tsunami, Japan's Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has become increasingly unstable with numerous explosions since Saturday, March 12th, 2011 causing concern that the nuclear reactors may meltdown or leak. The first explosion occurred around 3:45 pm. The second explosion, occurred Monday, March 14th which blew out part of the building surrounding the containment vessel near the No. 3 reactor. Steam was seen rising from this reactor. With this steam, an increase in the radiation levels of the plant began rising causing the few remaining nuclear plant workers to retreat, discontinuing critical efforts to pump water into the other reactors to keep them cool.

Effects of Nuclear radiation

A third explosion occurred on Tuesday morning, March 15th, 2011. This explosion caused damage to the inner containment building of reactor No. 2. The explosion at the No. 2 reactor was more serious because it was the first explosion at the plant that inside of the primary containment vessels of one of the reactors. The third explosion was quickly followed by a fourth explosion just a couple hours later that impacted the containment building surrounding the No.4 reactor.

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Fear of radiation exposure

The two explosions on Tuesday, March 15th from the No. 2 and No. 4 reactor caused a surge of radiation that was more than 800 times higher than the recommended hourly exposure limit. At one point radiation levels were estimated to be as high as 400 millisieverts an hour. Less than 10 minutes of exposure to this level of radiation would be the maximum annual dose an American nuclear power plant worker is allowed to be exposed to. It is estimated that more than an hour's exposure to these levels would likely lead to acute radiation sickness.

Experts now say that the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant have reached a Level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, 2nd only to the disaster at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986.

Chernobyl

Many of us were children, when the world's worst nuclear disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 in Ukraine at the Chernobyl power plant. That night, a reactor exploded spewing a huge radioactive cloud over the northern and western part of Europe. The threat of the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in Japan comes on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred during a routine systems test on reactor number four. During the test, there was a sudden surge of power. An emergency shutdown was attempted to counteract the sudden surge of power. This triggered an even greater power surge, that led to the explosion that ruptured the nuclear vessel. The fire from the explosion sent a radioactive plume into the atmosphere that effected large parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Radiation levels in the worst hit areas have been estimated to be as high as 20,000+ roentgens per hour. To put it into perspective, a lethal dose of radiation is considered to be around 500 roentgens per hour. The radiactive material released in the Chernobyl disaster was about 400 times more than had been released when Hiroshima was hit by the atomic bomb.

Is Fukushima Dai-Ichi the next Chernobyl?

Symptoms of Radiation Sickness

Reports vary wildly, for the amount of people killed and affected by the Chernobyl disaster. It ranges from as little as several hundred to millions.

Even though the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant is considered to be a Level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, it is unlikely that the effects will be as devastating as the Chernobyl disaster. Most likely, contributed to the fact that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant had containment structures, specifically built to block any radiactive release in the case of a nuclear meltdown.

Twenty five years after the disaster, it is clear that the psychological effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster still carry on today and it is likely that Japan could be facing lasting psychological effects from their nuclear disaster as well.

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