Fukushima Vs Chernobyl - Compare And Contrast

Tyler Durden's picture

Zero Hedge predicted from the very beginning that unfortunately Fukushima would end up being an as serious, if not more so (just consider the extremely high concentration of human and other capital in proximity to Fukushima: unlike the USSR there is little to none displacement capacity) catastrophe than Chernobyl. Yesterday's final hike in the incident severity level, which started at 4 and hit the highest , 7, is simply yet another confirmation of this although in absolute terms Fukushima still has a ways to go before surpassing the Soviet accident:
Choernobyl leaked a total of 5.2 million terabecquerels of radioactivity, Fukushima has so far leaked 500,000 terabecquerels. In the meantime what little progress is being made is promptly shadowed by all the incremental bad news that keep being disclosed (the most recent debacle is the discovery of extremely radioactive strontium just off the plant). Yet to be sure, there are differences between the two situation. Courtesy of Reuters, here are the key comparisons and differences between the two.

From Reuters

Here are the main points of how the two accidents differ.

ARE THE TWO DESIGNS THE SAME?

Unit 4 at Chernobyl was a water-cooled and graphite-moderated reactor
-- a combination that can and did yield a runaway chain reaction. A
series of gross errors and misjudgment by operators resulted in an
explosion and fire that catapulted radioactivity into the upper
atmosphere.

The resulting release of radiation has been compared
to 10 times that released by the 1945 U.S. nuclear bomb attack on the
Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The boiling water reactors at
Fukushima do not have a combustible graphite core. The nuclear fuel in
reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 was allowed to melt at least partially,
but operators have since succeeded in cooling both the reactors and the
spent fuel pools and no chain reaction is happening now.

As long
as cooling operations continue and Japan can prepare tanks fast enough
to store the contamination overflow, Japan can still hope to buy time to
figure out how to bring the reactors to a cold shutdown.

HOW DO THE CONTAINMENT STRUCTURES DIFFER?

Chernobyl had no containment structure and nothing stopped the trajectory of radioactive materials into the air.

Fukushima's reactors are built on granite foundations and are
surrounded by steel and concrete structures. The reactor vessels and
containment structures, as well as some of the pipes leading from the
reactors, are likely to have been damaged by the March 11 tsunami and
recurring earthquakes. But with radiation levels now down to a sliver of
what they were at the peak, experts say that the structures are still
holding.

Chernobyl contaminated an area as far as 500 km (300
miles) from the plant, and an area spanning 30 km (18 miles) around the
plant is still an exclusion zone and uninhabited.

HAVE THERE BEEN FALLOUT-LINKED DEATHS IN JAPAN?

At Fukushima, there have been no deaths so far due to radiation. Eight
people have been injured. More deadly have been the 9.0 magnitude quake
that hit on March 11 and the aftershocks that have rocked the site while
workers tried to bring the plant under control. Two have died and three
have been critically injured.

At Chernobyl, the initial
explosion resulted in the death of two workers. Twenty-eight of the
firemen and emergency clean-up workers died in the first three months
after the explosion from acute radiation sickness and one died of
cardiac arrest.

FLOW OF INFORMATION VERSUS COVER UP

Bungling, yes. Disorganised, incoherent and sometimes contradictory,
yes. But it is difficult to accuse Japanese officials or TEPCO of
intentionally covering up information, with round-the-clock updates and a
steady stream of data.

Chernobyl was initially covered up by
the secretive Soviet state, which remained silent for two days. But
authorities, obliged by huge radiation releases throughout Europe,
gradually disclosed details of the accident, showing unprecedented
Soviet-era openness.

DOES FUKUSHIMA POSE A GREATER RISK IF IT ALL GOES WRONG?

It's not over yet. One month since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami,
workers still have to inject water into the reactors, creating more
contaminated water that is hampering the restoration of power to pumps
to cool the reactors and bring them to a cold shutdown.

The
situation led a frustrated and demoralised TEPCO spokesman to say that
the total fallout could exceed that of Chernobyl. Fukushima involves
loss of control at four reactors and potentially more radioactive
material, that could continue to seep, leak or burst into the
environment.

Officials have said that if power cannot be
restored to the cooling pumps, there are other measures, such as air
cooling, and that in a worst-case scenario, they could try water
entombment in the reactors whose containment structures are sound.

 

 


And another key difference: with Chernobyl, even under utmost secrecy, the government moved fast, sacrificing many people, but only to prevent a far greater damage in the long run. In other words, the polar opposite of TEPCO (at least so far). And as this report from Yomiuri confirms, it was TEPCO's "tardiness" that has been the primary reason for much of the escalation.

From Yomiuri:

 

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's blood must have run cold around 10 p.m.
on March 11, the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake, when he
received the first report on the terrible situation at the Fukushima No.
1 nuclear power plant.

The report from the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency of the
Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry predicted reactor cores at the
nuclear power plant--where power and all functions to cool the reactors
were lost in the quake and tsunami--would be exposed to air, and that
extreme heat generated by fuel rods would damage their encasing tubes
later that night.

Fuel rods would melt down, and the following morning the pressure
inside the reactors' containment vessels would reach the maximum allowed
for by the facilities' designers, the report predicted.

Kan and everyone at the Prime Minister's Office understood the seriousness of the situation described by the report.

There were only two options that might prevent a meltdown of the
reactors--either restore the plant's power supply and cooling functions
immediately, or pour water directly into the reactors. If neither course
of action could be taken, the pressure inside the reactors would become
so great that they would be destroyed.

The report concluded that valves in the containment vessels would
have to be opened, to release radioactive steam and reduce the pressure
inside.

However, opening the valves was considered a last resort. Although
it could prevent the reactors from breaking apart, it would release
steam with high levels of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.

Such a step had never been taken at a nuclear power plant in Japan.

===

Countdown to power loss

The Prime Minister's Office, the nuclear safety agency and even
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, were
filled with relief immediately after the earthquake. They had been told
backup diesel generators would provide sufficient support to stabilize
the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors, which were in operation when the quake hit.

However, subsequent tsunami destroyed 12 of the 13 emergency generators.

"Round up all the power-supply cars and send them to the plant right
now!" shouted a TEPCO supervisor at the utility's head office in Tokyo.

Nuclear reactors have emergency cooling systems that channel water
into the reactor, using a turbine that can be powered by residual heat.
However, the systems rely on emergency batteries to power the water
intake valves.

The emergency batteries at the Fukushima plant were expected to run out of power around midnight.

===

Options exhausted

TEPCO dispatched power-supply vehicles from various power stations
around the country to the crippled nuclear plant. However, the vehicles
had to travel very slowly because of damage to roads in northeastern
Japan. The first power-supply car did not reach the plant until 9 p.m.
on March 11.

Once at the site, the lack of preparation became apparent. Cables
needed to connect the vehicles' high-voltage electricity to plant
facilities were not long enough. TEPCO immediately ordered additional
cables, but precious time had been wasted. Power would not be restored
at the plant by midnight.

The pressure inside the containment vessels rose above the maximum
allowed for by the facilities' design, and radiation levels at the plant
increased sharply. No option was left but to open the valves.

===

Anger rose as TEPCO dithered

TEPCO began preparations for opening the valves around 7 p.m. on
March 11. Pressure inside the No. 1 reactor was particularly high.

"Soon, the reactor won't be able to withstand the pressure," said an
official of the accident headquarters at the plant, which was keeping
in touch with TEPCO's head office via video phone. "We have to vent the
pressure immediately."

"Pressure inside the containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor has
gone up dramatically," the agency told Banri Kaieda, economy, trade and
industry minister, at 12:45 a.m. on March 12. In fact, it had reached
1.5 times the designed maximum, meaning the condition of the reactor was
critical.

"To get things under control, we have to pour water into the
reactors and then vent the steam that is generated," Haruki Madarame,
chairman of the Cabinet Office's Nuclear Safety Commission, told Kaieda.

At 1:30 a.m. on March 12, Kan, Kaieda and Madarame gathered at the
crisis management center in the basement of the Prime Minister's Office.

The three urged TEPCO officials to vent the steam as soon as
possible. But TEPCO officials said there was no way of opening the
valves because there was no power supply.

Exasperated, Kaieda called the utility's head office in Tokyo and
the accident headquarters at the plant every hour, pressuring them to
open the valves immediately.

TEPCO workers tried to open the valves by manually overriding the
automatic system, but struggled to make progress because they had to
work in darkness.

At dawn, pressure inside the No. 1 reactor was more than twice the designed maximum.

Eventually, at 6:50 a.m., the government ordered the utility to open the valves under the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law.

When Kan visited the accident site shortly after 7 a.m. and found
TEPCO had not opened the valves yet, he reprimanded company officials.
The officials replied they would like to have another hour to make a
decision on what to do.

Kan blew his stack.

"Now's not the time to make such lackadaisical comments!" the prime minister told the TEPCO officials.

Yet even still, the utility spent three more hours discussing the matter before finally opening the valves at 10:17 a.m.

Five hours after that, a hydrogen explosion occurred at the No. 1 reactor, blowing apart its outer building.

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Jiiins's picture

Potassium Iodide bitchez!

Tunga's picture

"... but operators have since succeeded in cooling both the reactors and the spent fuel pools and no chain reaction is happening now." said the evil step mother. 

 

A comedy tonight!

 


Lord Welligton's picture

Bungling, yes. Disorganised, incoherent and sometimes contradictory, yes. But it is difficult to accuse Japanese officials or TEPCO of intentionally covering up information, with round-the-clock updates and a steady stream of data.

Not difficult at all I would have thought.

 

topcallingtroll's picture

That steady stream of data has been a trickle.

We need more.ocean testing and real.time.continuous monitoring of the air above the plants.

But they dont want us to know how much.leakage.continues. they just give us the occasional soil or water sample.

Lord Welligton's picture

That steady stream of data has been a trickle.

Well exactly.

How Reuters can concluded otherwise is odd to say the least.

kaiserhoff's picture

Well, we're now at a level 7, so I guess Fukushima can't possibly be any more fucked.

StychoKiller's picture

Ever see antique maps where the "Terra Incognita" was marked:  "Here be monsters"?  7 is an arbitrary number and the Universe laughs at our puny efforts to measure where we're at...

the not so mighty maximiza's picture

no end in sight since they are not comprehending the magnitude.   Its like a slow motion nuclear explosion just shooting radioactive all over the earth.  Over many weeks, months and years.

Sweet Chicken's picture

Dear god that was terrifying. Look at how fast that entire area became a whirlpool of hell! I couldn't tell but did all the people running in that shot make it onto the hill?

topcallingtroll's picture

Good call.

And i believed the bullshit that a few days after the flood they were just going to flip the power back on and the plants would run smoothly.

Hollywood's picture

If Rueters said that it is too difficult to cover up, then it must be true.  Did a scientist write this article?

Global Hunter's picture

you saw the same thing I did, I didn't see your post before hitting the save button.  I obviously agree with you.

Global Hunter's picture

I don't find it difficult to accuse TEPCo of a coverup. 

topcallingtroll's picture

The coverup continues.

I want continuous real time monitoring of the air above each plant so we know how much leakage continues.

A once per week ocean sample is.insufficient.

umop episdn's picture

Chernobyl was a quarter century ago, and the rest fo the world has had time to pick apart the lies and learn more or less what actually happened. Meanwhile, Tepco continues to obfusticate. I doubt we know how much radiation has been released, especially the quantity into the Pacific, because Tepco doesn't really want to know. Exactly like BP didn't want to know how much oil was spewing from its undersea hole. In all these cases, the general public and their geiger counters and video cameras are NOT welcome in the disaster areas, and official words tend to be whoreporate words. Remind me to 'compare and contrast' a few years from now.

Note to self's picture

Reuters must be on the take.  How is it that people can watch a reactor building get blown sky high, and still expect the spent fuel pool to be somehpow intact, holding water, and keeping the rods cool?  WTF?  How can they report everything is being cooled and under control?  Did they forget what they saw?  Jesus H W Christ - it blew up!!! 

Herman Strandschnecke's picture

I used to trust in reuters. Not now since reading that fairytale.

Lead lined chinooks and earthquakes tell me this ain't over. damm I'm getting angry now.

 

primalplasma's picture

That's Hollywood programming and mind-control. The MSM is linked to Hollywood. People grow up with suspension of disbelief.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

and still expect the spent fuel pool to be somehpow intact,

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Big difference for exterior walls to give way due to over-pressure from a hydrogen-based explosion in contrast to load-bearing floors and other internal structures ...

Didja ever consider that?

Prolly not ...

 

      'Buy on the rumor and and sell on the news'

 

Note to self's picture

I'm an engineer, dickhead.  Have you seen the photos?  Its rubble.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

Photo interpretation is not your strong suite (notice floors are still intact!); speculation, however, may be ...

Use of deductive reasoning, again, not so much there either, referring again to the points I raised above.

 

Note to self's picture

I will heretofore add the notion of your being an idiot to my speculation.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

No address of issue; 'aggressive capitulation' noted when confronted with logic and facts.

Thank you for participating ...

 

MGA_1's picture

I've always throught of explosions at nuclear power plants as a bad thing.

Coffin Dodger's picture

I try not to prophecise too often, but intuition tells me that Fukushima is a show-stopper for humankind. Beyond the financial and economic impact (both of which will become increasingly evident in the coming months), the completely out-of-control situation at the reactors can poison our habitat worldwide.

A very fine line is being walked - too much information of a deadly serious kind could paralyse everything - after all, who would want to turn up for their job at the generator plant, or the police force, or the hospital...if you were being irradiated by a killer you can't see, smell or touch?

We truly have entered the twilight zone. I suppose if this really is IT, I'd rather not know all the details.

the not so mighty maximiza's picture

They have been handling this like an fraud accounting issue.  Coverup and redirect, media control.  It really looks like bankers have been calling the shots on this.  They are no good at real world problems. 

Natasha Fatale's picture

Agreed, there's something about this that feels like a game-changing moment. 

Diogenes's picture

One more dose of radioactivity in the environment on top of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini Atol, Chernobyl, thousands of above ground and underground test explosions, hundreds of reactors and processing facilities around the world.

Millions will die but millions have already died and the world goes on. 100 years ago cancer accounted for 1 death out of 20, now it is nearly 1 out of 2.

All in all it's just another brick in the wall.

TexDenim's picture

although in absolute terms Fukushima still has a ways to go before surpassing the Soviet accident.

In spades! Comparing the Japan incident to Chernobyl really is hyperbole. In Chernobyl, the nuclear core actually exploded into the atmosphere releasing tons of fissionable material.

 

MGA_1's picture

I read the explosion at unit #4 blew spent fuel several thousand feet into the air and all over the site.  Unfortunately, it was MOX fuel which includes plutonium.... very nasty stuff.

avonaltendorf's picture

Negatory. It was Reactor #3, about 1000 ft in the air.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

I read the explosion at unit #4 blew spent fuel 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Where?

 

Where did you read that?

 

Anyplace reputable? (unsourced rumors are not reputable)

 

InconvenientCounterParty's picture

The report entitled "RST Assessment of Fukushima Daiichi Units" March 26, has some good information. It's hard to find but it's worth it.

Basically, they said they found fuel on the ground outside in between 3 & 4. They couldn't tell exactly which it came from.

It's little consolation, just sayin'

Ident 7777 economy's picture

Basically, they said they found fuel on the ground ..

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I recall that report, and I recall that they found traces of what they thought to be traces of the 'fuel' on the ground ... no mention of fuel rods per se.

 

Now, it's possible a single fuel rod/assembly was attached to the fuel handling rig on the refueling floor (and not to be confused with the large crane that removes the containment cap) and when all hell blew loose with reactor buildings 1,  3, or 4 it is possible that a single fuel rod was 'disbursed' in the area ... far cry from a disbursement of a cooling pool's complement of rods, which we *know* still contain rods since they smoke/steam during presumably low water-level states before they are 'refilled' using the Putzmeister concrete tricks ...

 

Dagny Taggart's picture

Was there a fission meltdown that was in danger of hitting the water table and exploding beneath other unstable reactors at Chernobyl? 

http://hawaiinewsdaily.com/2011/03/when-the-fukushima-meltdown-hits-groundwater/

 

Lord Welligton's picture

A nuclear meltdown is a self-sustaining reaction. Nothing can stop it except stopping the reaction. And that would require a nuclear weapon. In fact, it would require one in each containment vessel to merely stop what is going on now. But it will be messy.

Not encouraging is it.

trav7777's picture

this is just complete bullshit.  Fission in reactors requires moderation.  This crap about nuking reactors is nonsensical idiocy and anyone who says it should be ignored immediately.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

a fission meltdown that was in danger of hitting the water table 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

OMG, you're sitting next to a LARGE BODY OF WATER, biggest in the world - with rising LAND to your west ... what do you suppose the 'slope' of the water table is:

 

A) TOWARDS the large body of water and away from the land

 

B) TOWARDS the land and away from the large body of water?

 

Besides, how is this any different ('meltdown into the water table') from pumping either seawater or fresh water on the 'lumps of molten fuel rods' creating large amounts of radioactive steam anyway?

 

 

Sweet Chicken's picture

You serious Clark?! The obvious difference would be the large scale nuclear steam explosion that would occur sending millions of particles thousands of feet into the atmosphere.

I'd call that a pretty big difference.

trav7777's picture

you guys learnt everything you know about nuclear reactor accidents from "China Syndrome," didn't you?

Sweet Chicken's picture

I don't know if that remark was directed at me but certainly a melted core falling into water would result in a steam explosion, no?!

trav7777's picture

Dr. Tom Burnett is utterly full of shit.

Fission did not stop at Chernobyl upon the initial core excursion precisely because portions of fissile material remained along with graphite moderation.  This is how the Bridge of Death came to be such a thing.  Chernobyl was fissioning during the accident until the army airlifted in enough boron, sand, and lead to absorb sufficient neutrons and to mobilize the core elements downward and out of the reactor.

There is no analog at Fukushima.  It is WATER moderated.  While the core will melt, without water inside the reactor, there can be no fission due to scientific concepts such as doppler broadening that Dr. Tom appears to be clueless about.  A BWR meltdown is NOT self-sustaining for this reason. 

Those who say that the Japs should have done what the USSR did are similarly clueless; there is nothing here to pour boron on (other than SFPs) as the reactor vessels roughly contain the reactants.  Chernobyl's reactor interior was open to the atmosphere, consequently things could be dumped into it.  That is not the case at Fukushima Dai 1.  Basic knowledge of the reactor designs should be a prerequisite for comment on this issue

MGA_1's picture

Err wait, so looks like I don't understand how reactor's work.  Doesn't water "Moderate" the reaction and slow it down?  Therefore, you remove the water and the reaction speeds up?

RichardP's picture

Under normal operating conditions, water controls the heat generated by the reaction, not the reaction itself.  When the fuel rods become sufficiently hot (in a not normal situation), water can moderate the reaction, as briefly explained below.

It has been stated earlier on ZH that neutrons are the key to the fission reaction.  With no water to slow them down, they speed away from the fuel rods and are less likely to be captured and used for fission.  If the rods are submerged in water, the neutrons slow down in their escape.  They are then more likely to be captured and used for fission.

This relationship between speed of neutrons and water led to the conclusion that there comes a point in the heating up when it could be a bad thing to add water to the spent fuel rod storage pools.  The water would enable increased fission, which would lead to increased heat in the already-overheated spent fuel rods.

Maxter's picture

Water does 2 thing in the reactor:

-first it slows the neutron so that the rods can absorb them more easily --> mean it helps the nuclear reaction

-second it remove exces heat produced my the reaction

 

the not so mighty maximiza's picture

I am curious if the data out of Japan is reliable, is there any way to cross reference and verify?