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.


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

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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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

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

"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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top_isotope's picture

hey bill,
what is the source of this data?

MGA_1's picture

Is the core melting through the bottom of reactor #2 ?


I'm hoping for the best, but it's certainly not over yet.

Pseudo Anonym's picture


something to consider:

Secret Weapons Program Inside Fukushima Nuclear Plant?


Ethics Gradient's picture

As opposed to an open source nuclear weapons program?

trav7777's picture

How many fucking times do I have to explain this to you idiots before you get it?

Japan HAS FISSILE MATERIALS, which are the sole obstacle any nation has to Bomb acquisition.  The technical issues relevant to creating a critical mass for an atomic bomb are trivial for a nation with the technological capability of Japan.

As they have an orbital space program too, they have delivery capability, intercontinental, as well.

Japan is a de facto nuclear weapons state.

HedgeCock's picture

Can you explain that again.  I didn't get it.

RichardP's picture

You need fissile materials to make an atomic bomb.  Nations that do not have fissile material cannot make an atomic bomb.  Japan has fissile material.  It can make an atomic bomb.  They have the capability to deliver an atomic bomb to other countries.  Japan has the ability to be a nuclear weapons state.

All of that may be true.  What is not clear is what relationship that information has to Pseudo's idea that there could be a secret weapon's program inside the damaged power plant.

Maybe Trav is saying of course they have a secret nuclear weapons program.  Can't tell from his words.

bob_dabolina's picture

"The nuclear fuel in reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 was allowed to melt "

As if they asked for permission.

Urban Roman's picture

And then there's the spent fuel pools. I did not realize until this happened that they need constant cooling as well, and for years after fission is shut down. And that they can get hot enough to burn their cladding off and scatter fission products.

My understanding is that Chernobyl did not have much spent fuel onsite, but Fukushima had maybe eight or ten core-loads of spent fuel stored in the reactor buildings. Recall that unit 4 was in "cold shutdown" but still managed to have a hydrogen explosion in its cooling pool.

Coffin Dodger's picture

Fukushima has 1760 tons of spent fuel rods stored at the facility. The majority of those spent rods are/were stored in pools directly above the reactor room in each unit. Spent rods are the most toxic things on earth, comprised mainly of plutonium and uranium. Plutonium has a half life of 24k years and 1 millionth of a gram (just a few particles) causes cancer if ingested. Plutonium release does not necessarily show up as a radiation spike. Plutonium has however been detected in the soil around the plant.

Ethics Gradient's picture

So the amount of radiation released by Fukushima is the same as was released at Hiroshima? That's a good pub fact.

TaxSlave's picture

"no chain reaction is happening now" + "strontium" = CONTRADICTION.

The latest of many.

SilverRhino's picture

Horseshit article. Fukushima will be much worse.

Ethics Gradient's picture


I mean it could be ten times worse, but I can't seem to lay my hands on any facts right now. Do you have any?

pvzh's picture

10 times more fuel, and absolutely nothing was done yet except buying more time

flattrader's picture

Contaminating a much denser population with little to no relocations options.

Aside from the human toll, which is bad enough on it's own, the property and productivity loss to the world's 3rd largest economy will be substantial.  Every estimate I've seen seems ridiculously low.

Ethics Gradient's picture

Sure, but what's the method for that getting somewhere else?

Do the cores melt into the water table and explode? Do pixies deliver it in the post?

Buying time seems to be what the nuclear industry is all about. When you're dealing with a dangerous isotope with a half life of hundreds of thousands of years (to coin a phrase) 'on a long enough timeline' a disaster is pretty much a certainty. In the case of Fukushima, what specifically are they buying time from?

What is the current situation? Japan isn't telling the truth. What is the worst case scenario? Dependant on the interests of the person disseminating the information, it's either an extiction level event or a marginal rise in the price of spinach.

I wasn't saying it is or isn't going to worse than Chernobyl - only that the facts to help determine what will happen are thin on the ground.

If it does get worse, you lot can have your endless game of two card top trumps to determine the winner, but at the moment, the Ukranians hold the better card.

I wanted to know whether SilverRhino knew something interesting of whether the Fukushima thing just gave him such a horn that he couldn't help but mess all over the interwebs.

Ethics Gradient's picture

Thank you for that. It was all very interesting. I watched the second link in its entireity (I had a quiet evening) and read the first.

Whilst the Chernobyl video put things into perspective, it was the very last piece of information that I gleened from those two links that was the most relevant: “Clearly, there’s no access to the core,” the official said. “The Japanese are honestly blind.”

RichardP's picture

Informed conjecture in the absence of detailed info:

The presence of Strontium outside of the reactors indicates that a chain reaction is happening/has happened and could happen again.  Chernobyl blew up and exposed the bad stuff, which made it possible to dump boron and sand and other stuff and stop all reactions.  Fukushima is closed, so for now no possibility to do that.  Currently no ability to stop any recriticality that may occur.  All of this can be inferred from what we currently know.  Bad stuff for the locals.  Implications for the wider world to be determined - but can also be reasonably guessed at by people who know their nuclear stuff.

Ethics Gradient's picture

I love politicians. What he says is perfectly true: there is no '8' on the disaster scale.

hardcleareye's picture

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

I am disgusted and starting to get really pissed off, with the "media" spins, you cannot responsibly make that "absolute" statement without having calibrated instrumentation on the reactor.

Per the IAEA daily report,

In Unit 2 the temperature at the feed water nozzle of the RPV is 149 °C. The temperature at the bottom of the RPV was not reported."

For further detailed tech explanation please see April 3 and April 6 update,



Carl Spackler-the Creator of Spackler Feather Bent's picture

Just what is the bigger accident - Fukushima or Kirsti Alley? 

Both are big ugly accidents but only one can be blamed on Scientology!

b_thunder's picture

In Chernobyl, half a million people were used to "liquidate" the catastrophy.  Thousands ahev died from radiation sickness.  500+ military helicopters and thousands of vehicles that we used during 1st few maonths have been permanently "retired" bacause of contamination. 

Less than a week after the event, 1000 miners were digging beneath the reactor 24/7 in order to dig out a "cavity" under the reactor to install liquid nitrogen cooling system. Oh, and they could only work 20min at  atime, otherwise they'd ret acute radiation poisoning.

Nothing liek that has happened in Japan.  In a dictatorial (communist) country you can force people to go there with total disregard for their own health,  but not in a liberal democracy!


Serfs Up's picture

Fukushima is not as bad as Chernobyl....so far.

It's not over yet, not by a long shot.

And while Fukushima may release less total radioactivity (assuming we believe the TEPCO guesstimates), it will be doing so over a very crowded and developed landscape which, truth be told, was pretty much fully occupied, gove or a take a few square meters.

Japan got lucky with the wind, at least in terms of the land-based contamination.  Coming soon to a blog near you....stories about how the ocean critters bioaccumulate various isotopes and that the Pacific ocean is not a gigantic, empty lagoon of immense dilutive powers.

MSimon's picture

Where are the IR photos?

Herbert_guthrie's picture

The difference is in the causes.

Chernobyl was an accident.
The jury is still out on this one.

Maybe the NanTroSeize Expedition data will shed light someday on this "historic" earthquake and Tsunami.
As always, follow the money trail.

MSimon's picture

The money was sunk in the ocean when the tsunami hit the money barge. This was caused by HARP scrambling the crew's minds. Now the crew is playing harps and they can't find the money. But like Doritos they can make more.

So what did I find when I followed the money? A printing press. Man those guys are devilish clever. They must be Jews.

Monetative Easing's picture

Why do threads like these devolve into the tinniest-foil hatted conspiracies?  HAARP, Jews, NWO, Bilderbergs, Haliburton, hidden nuclear weapons...really?  People spouting this stuff do know it simply doesn't make sense, right.

Is it really that hard to believe in common human stupidity, hubris and denial?

Back on topic, this disaster is different than Chernobyl in that the economic fallout is likely much greater.  Even if they were to get the situation under control today, Japan would suffer because they've lost a great deal of energy generation and food production. 


Putting aside the danger to human life from toxins being spewed by Fukushima, the loss of a power and food source is almost certain to have profound effects on the nation and a knock-on impact on the world economy.

trav7777's picture

well, economically...the Chernobyl thing is in a direct line to the downfall of the USSR.  It certainly did expose the incompetence of the central authority.  The USSR was bumping up against their oil peak a few years later and shelving reactor capacity was not something that they could stomach.

Diogenes's picture

"Why do threads like these devolve into the tinniest-foil hatted conspiracies? "

These days your only choice is koolaid or tinfoil.

majia's picture

Yipee the Reuters article must mean that skyrocketing beta radiation here in Phoenix is nothing to worry about. No reason to alarm the public with such nonsense--data from LA, Yuma, and many other SoCal EPA sites have been "under review" since Saturday.

We are being exposed to growing amounts of radiation that is acummulating in our air, grass, topsoil, etc. But hey, no problem because radiation is what is used to treat cancer...


How did this happen? Read "How the Peaceful Atom Became A Serial Killer"


And what a clever killer he is:

"Internal radiation, on the other hand, emanates from radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as iodine-131, caesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow's meat and milk, then humans). [2] After they enter the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, where they continuously irradiate small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years, can induce uncontrolled cell replication – that is, cancer. (Caldicott




Ident 7777 economy's picture

"Internal radiation, on the other hand, emanates from radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, 

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

Like from - bananas?



Banana equivalent dose - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

Fact Sheet on Biological Effects of Radiation: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/bio-effects-ra...


mick_richfield's picture

What's your problem?  I can absolutely assure you that a sufficiently high dose of ionizing radiation will indeed ensure that you will not die of cancer.

(Or need to be embalmed...)

I Got Worms's picture

Trust Reuters. They issued the presser to the BBC that WTC 7 collapsed 19 minutes before it actually did. They're just that good!

Herman Strandschnecke's picture

'Trust Reuters. They issued the presser to the BBC that WTC 7 collapsed 19 minutes before it actually did. They're just that good!'

Well I suppose I could give credit to their sources on that occasion but it still remains for the writer or editor to display caution until the event unfolds.

mick_richfield's picture

They, like GSax, were doing God's work.

Or -- at least -- OK, let's just say they were doing work for a divine being and leave it at that.

Confuchius's picture

No NY buildings "collapsed"


They were all demolished with thermate.

Wake up.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

They were all demolished with thermate.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

How did that happen?

Have you ever studied what it takes for Controlled Demolition Inc to accomplish that kind of 'feat'?



The Art of Demolition
For over sixty years, three generations of Loizeaux family innovation, expertise and leadership have created a commercial explosives demolition industry which has saved property owners and contractors hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.
That leadership and unparalleled experience gives CDI clients access to a full range of services and capabilities through a global network of offices and agents, all dedicated to the precision application of our technology.
And behind each successful project stands the CDI team - a talented group of professionals with decades of experience dedicated to absolute perfection on each new project.

Prolly not ... just repeating more High-School produced Loose Change crap ...


"...Our team, working at ground zero, including myself, never saw indication of explosive use that would have been evident after the event. You just can't clean up all that det cord, shock tube, blasting cap remnants, copper backing from explosive charges, burn marks along clean-cut edges of columns, etc., nor is there any evidence in the thousands of photos taken by the press and dozens of agencies over the following days."

-- Brent Blanchard, Demolition Expert, International Society of Explosives Engineers.



"All your base are debunked by us"

Vid rips Loose Change to shreds --> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhy22V_95p0


ss123's picture

Looks like Tokyo is starting to get a cluster of earthquakes near it. Over 6.0s in the last day.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

Repeated from above:

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


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.


Ident 7777 economy's picture

BECAUSE some, perhaps like you, are prone to miss it ...

I happen think it was an important point.

Lord Welligton's picture

I didn't miss it. See comments above.

Why type because in upper case?


Ident 7777 economy's picture

Well, good for you.

You are smarter than the 'average bear' after all ...

But, you are not everybody either ... odds favor many MORE ppl missing it.

Herbert_guthrie's picture

I've never wore a tin-foil hat, but I do believe that there can be more to the story than meets the eye.

IF you follow the money trail for the Chikyu Hakken, as well as other deepwater drilling "research" vessels around the world, you will find it leads back to the "usual suspects" financial doors.
These financial entities have profited from human misery and disaster in the past, why would they become humanitarians today?

You think deep drilling can't cause earthquakes? Best do a little more historical research friend, before you discount such theories as just from the "tin-foil" hat crowd.