Study: A Chernobyl-Fukushima Meltdown Likely Every 10 to 20 years

A new peer-reviewed scientific study shows that ‘catastrophic’ nuclear meltdowns leading to worldwide radioactive fallout are likely to occur once every 10 to 20 years.

A newly released scientific study calculates a ‘severe nuclear meltdown’ resulting in worldwide nuclear fallout, similar to Chernobyl and Fukushima, is likely to occur once every 10 to 20 years.

The study was not based not on theoretical models predicting future performance such as the ones used to grant nuclear reactor operator licenses, but instead focuses on actual past operating performance at nuclear reactors.

The study also calculated the resulting nuclear fallout from such a nuclear meltdown and found that in such events only a small portion of the radioactive fallout falls near the event site itself with 75% of the radioactive contamination spreading beyond 1000 kilometers from the plant.
75% of the nuclear fallout falls over 1000 km from the meltdown

Perhaps more shocking, contrary to intuition and popular belief, the radioactive fallout from a nuclear meltdown is not localized.

Only eight percent of the cesium particles are expected to deposit within an area of 50 kilometers around the nuclear accident site, which is the size of the current evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant.

To the contrary, researchers determined in such events half of the radioactive caesium-137 would be spread over an area of more than 1,000 kilometers from the source of the nuclear meltdown and 25 percent of the radioactive particles are transported further than 2,000 kilometers.
A Single Meltdown In US Or Europe would Blanket More Than 20 Million People

The study also shows an extremely high risk of nuclear radioactive fallout of levels 40 kilobecquerels per square meter or higher in the Eastern United States, across all of Europe, as well in East and South Asia.

The study shows single nuclear meltdown in Europe would blanket 28 million people on average with nuclear fallout of radioactive cesium at levels more than 40 kilobecquerels per square meter.

In the Eastern US and East Asia and average of 14 to 21 million people would be blanketed by the fallout with such levels of radiation.

In South Asia, due to the dense populations, the same level of radiation would from a single nuclear meltdown would blanket 34 million people.
Study Invalidates Nuclear Reactor Licensing Statistics

In the United States nuclear reactors are given operating license based on theoretical models, that critics say use out of date statistical data, which show that ‘core damage’ or a ‘nuclear meltdown’ will only occur .0001 times per year or once every ten thousand years.

Last year Congressman Ed Markey raised serious doubts about the validity of those statistics as part of an investigation he called a NRC coverup of US nuclear power plant risks following the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

His investigation showed nuclear meltdown risk statistics used to grant operating license are based on flawed assumptions and by using updated data, such as new 2010 seismic data, a nuclear meltdown will occur in US nuclear plants .026 times per years or one time every 39 years.

The investigation also revealed the NRC members and their staff conspired against NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to prevent, delay, and alter a report with guidelines to address critical safety flaws in U.S. nuclear plants discovered as part of a review following the Fukushima meltdown.

Yesterday, it was announced that Chairman Jaczko is resigning from his position as NRC Charmian, undoubtedly being forced to do so because he spoken out about the dangers discovered at U.S. nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster and advocated to have those plants to address their critical safety flaws.
DOE Eliminates 38 Of 80 Nuclear Safety Directive Putting US Plants At Higher Risk

Adding to concerns of the research discussed above is that those statistics are based on past operating performance while a GAO audit of US nuclear safety released Tuesday revealed the US Department of Energy has reduced the number of safety directives a nuclear sites across the United States from 80 down to 42.

According to the audit the elimination of the directives are part of reform efforts to help the DOE come into compliance with issues identified by GAO and agencies in the areas of quality assurance, safety culture, and federal oversight.

In the audit, the GAO charged reasons for the DOE eliminating many of the safety directives are unclear.

In the DOE’s own words, the safety issues identified at US nuclear plants was not due to the lack of safety directives but the lack of implementation of those directives and management’s failure to adhere to the rules and regulations in the directives.

As part of their reform effort to bring their nuclear sites into compliance they have simply identified directives they found to be too burdensome or require too much red tape.

For example, the DOE eliminated their quality assurance directive along with the requirement to file reports with the government for nearly all events except those deemed be major events.

Additionally they have eliminated surprise inspections at nuclear sites instead all inspections now will be scheduled and DOJ contractors will have time to prepare prior to those inspections.

The responsibility to assure the contractors that runs the DOJ’s nuclear sites comply with safety regulations have now been handed over to the contractor’s themselves to enforce.

The DOJ has also eliminated the long-standing systems review process that must be done before restarting nuclear facilities that are taken offline.

Under the reform effort, this level of review is now only required for facilities and activities posing a higher risk, such as starting up a newly constructed nuclear facility, and not required for facilities and activities posing lesser risk, such as restarting facilities after routine maintenance.
From the highly respected science website

Probability of contamination from severe nuclear reactor accidents is higher than expected: study

This shows the global risk of radioactive contamination. The map shows the annual probability in percent of radioactive contamination by more than 40 kilobecquerels per square meter. In Western Europe the risk is around two percent per year. Credit: Daniel Kunkel, MPI for Chemistry, 2011

Catastrophic nuclear accidents such as the core meltdowns in Chernobyl and Fukushima are more likely to happen than previously assumed. Based on the operating hours of all civil nuclear reactors and the number of nuclear meltdowns that have occurred, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have calculated that such events may occur once every 10 to 20 years (based on the current number of reactors) — some 200 times more often than estimated in the past.

The researchers also determined that, in the event of such a major accident, half of the radioactive caesium-137 would be spread over an area of more than 1,000 kilometres away from the nuclear reactor. Their results show that Western Europe is likely to be contaminated about once in 50 years by more than 40 kilobecquerel of caesium-137 per square meter.


It appears that the global risk of such a catastrophe is higher than previously thought, a result of a study carried out by a research team led by Jos Lelieveld, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz: “After Fukushima, the prospect of such an incident occurring again came into question, and whether we can actually calculate the radioactive fallout using our atmospheric models.” According to the results of the study, a nuclear meltdown in one of the reactors in operation worldwide is likely to occur once in 10 to 20 years. […]


The computer simulations revealed that, on average, only eight percent of the 137Cs particles are expected to deposit within an area of 50 kilometres around the nuclear accident site. Around 50 percent of the particles would be deposited outside a radius of 1,000 kilometres, and around 25 percent would spread even further than 2,000 kilometres. These results underscore that reactor accidents are likely to cause radioactive contamination well beyond national borders.

The results of the dispersion calculations were combined with the likelihood of a nuclear meltdown and the actual density of reactors worldwide to calculate the current risk of radioactive contamination around the world. […]

The team in Mainz found that in Western Europe, where the density of reactors is particularly high, the contamination by more than 40 kilobecquerels per square meter is expected to occur once in about every 50 years. It appears that citizens in the densely populated southwestern part of Germany run the worldwide highest risk of radioactive contamination, associated with the numerous nuclear power plants situated near the borders between France, Belgium and Germany, and the dominant westerly wind direction.

If a single nuclear meltdown were to occur in Western Europe, around 28 million people on average would be affected by contamination of more than 40 kilobecquerels per square meter. This figure is even higher in southern Asia, due to the dense populations. A major nuclear accident there would affect around 34 million people, while in the eastern USA and in East Asia this would be 14 to 21 million people.


More information: Jos Lelieveld, Daniel Kunkel and Mark G. Lawrence Global risk of radioactive fallout after nuclear reactor accidents, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 4245-4258, 2012. doi:10.5194/acp-12-4245-2012

From Congressman Markey:

Report Details Conspiracy to Delay, Weaken US Nuclear Safety in Wake of Fukushima
Dec. 9, 2011 –

“Regulatory Meltdown” Reveals Efforts to Improve Nuclear Safety Undermined by Four NRC Commissioners

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of his ongoing investigation into U.S. nuclear safety since the Fukushima meltdowns, today Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Congress’s leading voice for nuclear safety, released a blockbuster new report that details how four Commissioners at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) colluded to prevent and then delay the work of the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima, the entity tasked with making recommendations for improvement to NRC regulations and processes after the Fukushima meltdowns, the worst nuclear disaster in history. The Near-Term Task Force members comprise more than 135 years of collective experience at the NRC, and with full access to expert NRC staff completed a methodical and comprehensive review of NRC’s regulatory system.

Rep. Markey’s office reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including emails, correspondence, meeting minutes and voting records, and found a concerted effort by Commissioners William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff and George Apostolakis to undermine the efforts of the Fukushima Task Force with request for endless additional study in an effort to delay the release and implementation of the task force’s final recommendations. Documents also show open hostility on the part of the four Commissioners toward efforts of NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko to fully and quickly implement the recommendations of the Task Force, despite efforts on the part of the Chairman to keep the other four NRC Commissioners fully informed regarding the Japanese emergency.

“The actions of these four Commissioners since the Fukushima nuclear disaster has caused a regulatory meltdown that has left America’s nuclear fleet and the general public at risk,” said Rep. Markey. “Instead of doing what they have been sworn to do, these four Commissioners have attempted a coup on the Chairman and have abdicated their responsibility to the American public to assure the safety of America’s nuclear industry. I call on these four Commissioners to stop the obstruction, do their jobs and quickly move to fully implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster.”

A copy of the report “Regulatory Meltdown: How Four Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners Conspired to Delay and Weaken Nuclear Reactor Safety in the Wake of Fukushima” can be found HERE.
Major findings in the new report include:
• Four NRC Commissioners attempted to delay and otherwise impede the creation of the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima;
• Four NRC Commissioners conspired, with each other and with senior NRC staff, to delay the release of and alter the NRC Near-Term Task Force report on Fukushima;
• The other NRC Commissioners attempted to slow down or otherwise impede the adoption of the safety recommendations made by the NRC Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima;
• NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko kept the other four NRC Commissioners fully informed regarding the Japanese emergency, despite claims to the contrary made by these Commissioners; and
• The consideration of the Fukushima safety upgrades is not the only safety-related issue that the other NRC Commissioners have opposed.

After the Near Term Task Force released its report in July, Rep. Markey called for the rapid adoption of all recommendations, and sent letters criticizing the proposals to delay even their consideration that were put forward by Commissioners Svinicki, Magwood and Ostendorff.

Rep. Markey also introduced legislation to overhaul nuclear safety. The Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011 will impose a moratorium on all new nuclear reactor licenses or license extensions until new safety requirements are in place that reflect the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster.

Categories: NUCLEAR NEWS

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