The truth, it is said, dies last. The problem with accidents like Chernobyl or Fukushima is that there is no such thing as the one recognized truth. Today, 25 years later, there is no general consensus on the health consequences of the Chernobyl reactor disaster. It follows from this: Of course, the consequences of Fukushima could exceed those of Chernobyl. Of course, that doesn’t say whether they really do that. Because what the consequences are is disputed.
Number of radiation deaths in Ukraine still unclear
Up to 800,000 cleanup workers were reportedly used at the time to clean up the exploded reactor in and around Ukraine. Allegedly only half were registered. How many got sick – nobody knows that beyond dispute. The Russian government then did everything it could to cover up the true extent of the disaster. One thing is certain: there has been significantly more thyroid cancer and leukemia in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia since then. It is undisputed that around 50 people died from radiation sickness. They had received very high doses of radioactivity in a short period of time. The total number of radiation deaths is over 4,000, but this is only a controversial minimum number for the most heavily polluted regions around the accident reactor. Environmental protection organizations cite far higher numbers overall, sometimes hundreds of thousands of deaths locally and across Europe. What is true?
The problem behind this is complex. Basically, it causes considerable difficulties in establishing statistically reliable connections between low radiation exposure and increased disease rates. Cancer can have many causes. Any additional radiation exposure may be the drop that brings the barrel overflowing and triggers an individual illness – at some point. Maybe decades later. And then legal and financial issues come into play alongside the suffering of the individual. Who will pay for my treatment? Who pays compensation? Who pays for the survivors? How are the nuclear power plants insured? Who will be evacuated, where and for how long? Every kilometer more evacuation zone costs. It quickly becomes clear that there is a lot of money involved. A lot of money. And whenever there is a lot of money involved, the truth comes under pressure.
Information policy in Fukushima inadequate from the start
In Fukushima, the information policy of the operating company Tepco and the government was and is inadequate from the start. There are some experts who draw clear parallels with Chernobyl here. In the event of a disaster, people lie that the beams bend, which can be assumed as a working hypothesis. The interdependence of the nuclear industry and authorities, including international ones, does not exactly lead to increased trust in official aid. And that is probably the main reason why committed environmentalists are currently warning of the underestimated consequences of the Fukushima disaster. Whether you are right or wrong will probably only become clear in many years. Provided that the medical statistics are operated more honestly than in Russia.
Could Fukushima Chernobyl "top"?
Fukushima could "top" Chernobyl – this thesis is countered by the fact that the main radiation exposure from Chernobyl in the first ten days was mainly from radioactive particles with a very short decay time such as iodine 131. The comparable values in Japan are officially about a factor of ten lower. The fire in the Russian graphite reactor threw large quantities of particles very high, so that the wind could spread them over a large area. Such a fire is absent in Fukushima. But Tokyo is a densely populated area in dangerous proximity to the nuclear power plants. 250 kilometers is not much , The residents recently received a first foretaste of how radioactive iodine could be detected in the drinking water of the big city. Due to the dense population, even lower doses of radiation can cause more diseases and increase mortality larger quantities t. That could spread, for example if there were another hydrogen explosion. So far, this danger has by no means been averted.
In view of the wild cocktail of decay products that usually arise in both controlled and uncontrolled chain reactions, the previous selection of the published measured values largely for cesium-137 and iodine-131 seems strange. And another difference to Chernobyl: several reactors are affected at the same time, as are several decay basins with old fuel rods, the cooling of which repeatedly causes problems. And what about the more than ten million liters of radioactive water that has just been discharged into the sea? Even if the Pacific thins everything quickly – the radiation does not decrease as a result, only the concentration decreases.
Consequences only foreseeable in decades
In view of all this, the probability seems high to me personally that the reactor disaster in Fukushima will have serious health consequences for many thousands of people, sometimes for decades. Whether we will ever get reliable figures on this will depend heavily on whether and how journalists and NGOs such as Greenpeace will take care of measured values and medical statistics on site in the coming months or years. In view of the trauma caused by the terrible earthquake of magnitude 9.0 and the subsequent tsunami, it is often impossible to separate what exactly caused numerous illnesses, miscarriages and deaths. The truth, it is said, dies last. This will not alleviate the suffering of the people affected.
Questions about Fukushima
The SWR environment editors Werner Eckert and Axel Weib answered numerous questions about Fukushima in the blog. this site has now combined these texts, which were originally written for the blog, into a dossier.