Fukushima 'not comparable' with Chernobyl: French watchdog

12th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

The accident at Fukushima has released "significant" amounts of radiation but at levels and with an impact that are "not comparable" to Chernobyl, France's nuclear safety agency said on Tuesday.

"At present... Fukushima is not, nor will it be, Chernobyl, even though it is a very serious accident," the head of the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), Patrick Gourmelon, said.

Japan earlier Tuesday hiked its rating of the Fukushima accident from five to a maximum of seven on a worldwide scale, a slot previously only occupied by the April 26 1986 catastrophe in Ukraine.

"Releases (of radioactivity at Fukushima) have not changed. It is only a re-evaluation in the light of the strict criteria" used for the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES), said Thierry Charles, in charge of safety at the IRSN.

Level seven of INES describes events with "major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects, requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures."

In its assessment, the IRSN said Fukushima differed from Chernobyl on several counts, especially on the amount of radioactivity that has leaked.

Fukushima has had three reactors that have hit problems, as compared with one at Chernobyl.

But the Japanese plant has released only one-tenth of the radioactivity disgorged by Chernobyl because its reactor vessels have so far remained intact, thus keeping almost all of the nuclear fuel enclosed.

In addition, radioactive contamination from Fukushima has been "very local" because of prevailing winds and rain, the IRSN said. Most of the contamination occurred between March 12 and 21.

At Chernobyl, an authorised experiment went catastrophically wrong, causing the reactor vessel to explode and catch fire, spewing radioactive dust and ash across swathes of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, even reaching as far west as Ireland.

As for the impact on health, exposure to cancer-causing contaminants was worsened in the Chernobyl disaster because the Soviet authorities delayed evacuating the population, distributing iodine pills to protect the thyroid and halting consumption of milk.

At Fukushima, in contrast, the authorities swiftly evacuated a zone in a radius of 20 kilometres (12 miles) around the plant and imposed food safety measures, a protocol that can avoid "considerable doses" of radiation, the IRSN said.

© 2011 AFP

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