When you think of a nuclear meltdown, you may picture an image similar to an atomic bomb being dropped. However, the effects of a nuclear fallout are different than the effects of an atomic bomb. This article will explain the difference between the two by comparing the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 and the Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown of 1986.
What is the Difference Between an Atomic Bomb and a Nuclear Meltdown?
Many people are familiar with the appearance of an atomic bomb after it has been dropped. The uncontrolled chain reaction results in a mushroom cloud explosion that is nearly impossible to mistake. Many people also assume that this is the same reaction that occurs when a nuclear plant has an accident, however this is not true.
In a nuclear meltdown, the nuclear reactor literally melts. When the core of the reactor begins to heat up, the fuel rods and steel walls also heat up. When this occurs, the reactor and its surroundings can reach temperatures of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (4,892 degrees Fahrenheit―to be exact; or the equivalent of 2,700 degrees Celsius). As a result, these solids are liquified and can sink 50 feet or more into the ground.
Once underground, the uranium will react with groundwater. This results in radio active steam explosions that can affect the surrounding area including nearby cities, villages, towns and rural areas.
What is the Environment like after an Atomic Bomb in Comparison to a Nuclear Meltdown?
Following an atomic bomb, the area is completely leveled. Buildings, trees and wildlife are destroyed. For example, immediately following the drop of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in 1945, fire had engulfed an area of at least 900 feet and more than two-thirds of the buildings were destroyed. The blast also destroyed windows of buildings within 10 miles of the drop location.
Approximately half an hour after the atomic bomb was dropped, precipitation began falling that consisted of dirt, soot, dust and various debris; all of which was highly radioactive.
Meanwhile, in a nuclear meltdown―the reaction is much less dramatic (though just as dangerous). In the Chernobyl Disaster of 1986 in an area now known as the Ukraine (formerly of the Soviet Union), the buildings and surrounding land were left mostly intact. When air reacted with the graphite moderator of the nuclear reactor, it resulted in carbon monoxide; which did catch on fire. This fire created radioactive smoke that entered the atmosphere accompanied by radioactive steam explosions which projected nuclear reactor fuel into the atmosphere.
Clouds of nuclear fallout affected the surrounding areas, resulting in the images we now see today of Chernobyl.
What About the People Living in These Areas?
No one will ever be sure of exactly how many deaths resulted from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. One author: Daniel Ford, estimates that out of a population of approximately 255,000―approximately 45,000 people died within 24 hours and an additional 19,000 people died during the following four months. These figures are only one man’s estimates and do not include people who died in the following months and years after developing cancer or other health issues due to radiation.
In the Chernobyl Nuclear Meltdown of 1986; only two individuals immediately died. In the following three months, 28 more people (firemen and emergency clean-up workers) would die due to ARS or ‘Acute Radiation Sickness’ (and one from cardiac arrest). This does not account for the number of people who were exposed to radiation and developed cancer or other health issues following the meltdown.
International Atomic Energy Agency: Frequently Asked Chernobyl Questions
Atomic Archive: The Story of Hiroshima
ThinkQuest: Nuclear Disasters and Accidents
WarBird: How Many People Died at Hiroshima?