We sincerely wish that the Japanese reactor did not melt down. If it has, it is like the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

The reactors under emergency in Japan are boiling water type, with an installed capacity of about 1000 MW electricity year. The one that has been reported as experiencing a core melt down is of the same size as that of Chernobyl 4 reactor, which exploded 25 years ago on 26 April 86. The radioactive plume consisting of about 30 deadly radioactive isotopes - iodine, cesium, plutonium to name a few moved up in the stratosphere and reached almost part of the northern hemisphere of this planet. The total radioactive atoms released during 10 days of reactor instability numbered 60,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 all of them as single atoms. The northern half of the earth has an area of 250 trillion square meters - each square meter of land and ocean was gifted with a trillion particles. At the time of release, the radio-nuclides were irradiating the surroundings at the rate of 50,000 disintegrations every second. Parts of them are there in our top soil, irradiating at 3000 disintegrations per second in each square meter of land. Each one of those disintegration has the potential to induce a gene mutation that will lead to cancer in the exposed person or a disability to their offspring.

Studies of chernobyl show that

Very high levels or radiations were found in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. On the whole, places receiving high rainfall also got the highest doses

Iodine131, a radioactive isotope that concentrate in thyroid constituted about 10% of the atoms released in Chernobyl. This iodine gets to us through milk. Cow graces today ... tomorrows milk has radioiodine. The well water route is faster. If it rains and radioactive particles are there in the atmosphere, they will be swept in by water droplets and they deposit the well. The particles deposited in the oceans can reach us via fish within hours of deposit.

Children and adults too who drink milk laced with iodine133 are at a higher risk of thyroid cancer - not every child will get, but many will.


There are not many dosimeters in India outside the atomic energy establishment. In Chennai there were just two portable systems in 2007. I asked a scientist friend what he will do in case of a radiological emergency. He said his friends in BARC will tell them. Later he bought a system for his lab.

BARC and ISRO should share the data their monitors detect on a regular basis with the civil society. Some one must try the RTI route also.

Commissioning of Koodamkulam and preparations for other reactors must be delayed till things settle down. Because, the Japanese reactors have the highest earth quake protection and still shown to be vulnerable.

Good Practice Advisory

Covering well water sources
Keeping the grazing animals indoor till iodine activity is reduced
Converting milk into long shelf life products like ghee, cheese etc
Avoiding or reducing consumption of milk
Delaying the harvest of leafy vegetables
Cleaning leafs, vegs and fruits
Avoiding foods like mushrooms - they concentrate high levels of cesium137
Being indoor during the first few rains
Think of having dosimeters in your office, mohalla so that you can measure what is there.

VT Padmanabhan
Independent consultant on ionizing radiation's eco-sytem impacts
Member, Advisory Board, mines minerals and PEOPLE
12 March 11

NB: Try to avoid exposure. If you or your loved ones are exposed, do not be concerned too much - because not every one exposed will get a cancer. Your chance of being in the no-effect group could be more than ten times that of being in the other group.