Comparing Fukushima to Chernobyl

I found that New Scientist article that I had seen last week on a comparison of the output of radioactivity into the environment from Fukushima and Chernobyl. It states:

Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.

The difference between this accident and Chernobyl, they say, is that at Chernobyl a huge fire released large amounts of many radioactive materials, including fuel particles, in smoke. At Fukushima Daiichi, only the volatile elements, such as iodine and caesium, are bubbling off the damaged fuel. But these substances could nevertheless pose a significant health risk outside the plant….

And the long term health effects are just beginning:

The Chernobyl accident emitted much more radioactivity and a wider diversity of radioactive elements than Fukushima Daiichi has so far, but it was iodine and caesium that caused most of the health risk – especially outside the immediate area of the Chernobyl plant, says Malcolm Crick, secretary of a United Nations body that has just reviewed the health effects of Chernobyl. Unlike other elements, he says, they were carried far and wide by the wind.

Moreover the human body absorbs iodine and caesium readily. “Essentially all the iodine or caesium inhaled or swallowed crosses into the blood,” says Keith Baverstock, former head of radiation protection for the World Health Organization’s European office, who has studied Chernobyl’s health effects.

Iodine is rapidly absorbed by the thyroid, and leaves only as it decays radioactively, with a half-life of eight days. Caesium is absorbed by muscles, where its half-life of 30 years means that it remains until it is excreted by the body. It takes between 10 and 100 days to excrete half of what has been consumed.

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