Head of Chernobyl biobank believes Fukushima risk was overstated
Five years on from the earthquake-triggered leak at the Fukushima power plant, the surrounding villages are still abandoned, as photographs eerily show.
Earthquake damage is unrepaired and the houses still have family belongings on display. The shops are full of goods and cars stand in silent rows, slowly being reclaimed by plant life.
But is this level of caution justified or is it based on a simple misconception?
Gerry Thomas is head of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank at Imperial College London. She believes that the exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant is largely unnecessary and is based on a failure to appreciate the difference between fallout from an atomic explosion and a power plant leak.
It is thirty years since the Chernobyl disaster and sufficient evidence now exists to clearly demonstrate the different effects of the two.
Nuclear explosions produce massive amounts of gamma radiation. This is highly penetrating and extremely harmful to life. Those it does not kill quickly can succumb to radiation related illnesses days, weeks, months or even years later.
On the other hand, a power plant leak produces isotopic radiation from caesium-137 and iodine-131 that can only cause harm if taken into the body. This means that, despite the scale of the Fukushima release and the wide area it affected, 95% of the population would have only received around one tenth of the radiation from a CT scan.
She believes that similar incidents should be treated in a similar way to other chemical leaks – with residents told to stay indoors, with windows and doors shut.
They could then be evacuated if it was deemed necessary.