The environmental impacts of the nuclear accidents of Chernobyl and Fukushima are compared. In almost every respect, the consequences of the Chernobyl accident clearly exceeded those of the Fukushima accident. In both accidents, most of the radioactivity released was due to volatile radionuclides (noble gases, iodine, cesium, tellurium). However, the amount of refractory elements (including actinides) emitted in the course of the Chernobyl accident was approximately four orders of magnitude higher than during the Fukushima accident. For Chernobyl, a total release of 5300 PBq (excluding noble gases) has been established as the most cited source term. For Fukushima, we estimated a total source term of 520 (340-800) PBq. In the course of the Fukushima accident, the majority of the radionuclides (more than 80%) was transported off shore and deposited in the Pacific Ocean. Monitoring campaigns after both accidents reveal that the environmental impact of the Chernobyl accident was much greater than of the Fukushima accident. Both the highly contaminated areas and the evacuated areas are smaller around Fukushima and the projected health effects in Japan are significantly lower than after the Chernobyl accident. This is mainly due to the fact that food safety campaigns and evacuations worked quickly and efficiently after the Fukushima accident. In contrast to Chernobyl, no fatalities due to acute radiation effects occurred in Fukushima.
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