The death of a nuclear reactor has a beginning; the world is watching this unfold now on the coast of Japan. But it doesn’t have an end.
While some radioactive elements in nuclear fuel decay quickly, cesium’s half-life is 30 years and strontium’s is 29 years. Scientists estimate that it takes 10 to 13 half-lives before life and economic activity can return to an area. That means that the contaminated area—designated by Ukraine’s Parliament as 15,000 square miles, around the size of Switzerland—will be affected for more than 300 years. All last week, workers frantically tried to cool the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant 140 miles north of Tokyo. But one had to look at Ukraine to understand the sheer tedium and exhaustion of dealing with the aftermath of a meltdown. It is a problem that does not exist on a human time frame.
About Chernobyl, from the Times: