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VIENNA – The crisis at Japan's earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant is "unlikely" to turn into a new Chernobyl, which was the world's worst nuclear accident, the UN atomic watchdog said on Monday.
"Let me say that the possibility that the development of this accident into one like Chernobyl is very unlikely," Yukiya Amano told a news conference at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
The current crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant was caused not by human error or a design fault, as in the case of Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, but by a "huge natural catastrophe beyond imagination," Amano said.
In addition, the reactors at Fukushima had been automatically shutdown when the earthquake hit, so "there is no chain reaction going on," the IAEA chief said.
Furthermore, the Chernobyl reactor did not have a reactor vessel, while Fukushima does "and that reactor vessel is still contained" even after two explosions there, he said.
Even with the two Fukushima explosions, so far this is nothing like Chernobyl. In 1986, the control rods malfunctioned and the fuel rods melted down. A subsequent explosion catapulted tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere.
"One hundred times as much radioactivity as Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined went up into the air at Chernobyl," Dallas said.
What is a meltdown?
Twenty-five years later, a dead zone with a 16 mile radius still surrounds Chernobyl. At least 11,000 children have developed thyroid cancer there.
Unlike Chernobyl, the explosions at Fukushima have come from the containment dome - not the radioactive core.
"The containment vessel only had a little bit of radioactivity in it," Dallas said. "But it's still nothing next to what you would get, or you would have to get in order to get sick."