No Chernobyl


And here's why:

A concern for the people not just of Japan but the Pan Pacific area is whether Fukushima will turn into the next Chernobyl with radiation spread over a big area. The answer is that this scenario is highly unlikely, because of the wildly different design of the two reactors.

The reason why radiation was disseminated so widely from Chernobyl with such devastating effects was a carbon fire. Some 1,200 tonnes of carbon were in the reactor at Chernobyl and this caused the fire which projected radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere causing it to be carried across most of Europe. There is no carbon in the reactors at Fukushima, and this means that even if a large amount of radioactive material were to leak from the plant, it would only affect the local area.

The Japanese authorities acted swiftly and decisively in evacuating people living within 20km of the plant, and ensuring people living within 30km of the plant remained in their homes, with windows and doors closed. The radiation measured so far at Fukushima is 100,000 times less than that at Chernobyl.

I do not have the expertise to assess this judgment, but it sure is reassuring. We may also be overlooking something in the nuclear panic: the humanitarian disaster of the freezing post-tsunami north east of Japan:

As well as an official death toll now over 4,200, which will inevitably rise much higher, hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless, in many cases losing just about every possession. Their plight has been made worse by the severe weather affecting much of Japan's north-east at the moment, with some areas experiencing blizzards and temperatures of -5C. There are temporary evacuation shelters but these are generally basic and often very chilly. Food and fuel are in short supply.

(Photo: Rescue workers carry a charred body from the rubble of a village destroyed by the devastating earthquake, fires and tsunami March 16, 2011 in Kesennuma, Miyagi province, Japan. By Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)