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Chance of nuclear accident put higher

Scientists calculate such disasters may occur once every 10 to 20 years

MAINZ, Germany | May 23, 2012

Catastrophic nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima are more likely to happen than previously assumed, German researchers say.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have calculated that given the operating hours of all civil nuclear reactors and the number of nuclear meltdowns that have occurred to date, such disasters may occur once every 10 to 20 years.

That figure is based on the number of reactors operational in the world, currently 440, and is 200 times higher than previous estimates, an institute release said Tuesday.

In the event of such a major accident, the researchers said, radioactive material would be spread over an area of more than 600 miles away from the nuclear reactor.

"After Fukushima, the prospect of such an incident occurring again came into question, and whether we can actually calculate the radioactive fallout using our atmospheric models," Jos Lelieveld, institute director, said.

If a single nuclear meltdown were to occur in Western Europe around 28 million people on average would be affected by radioactive contamination, the researchers said, while in southern Asia, due to the dense populations, a major nuclear accident there would affect around 34 million people.

In the eastern United States and in East Asia this figure would be 14 to 21 million people, they said.

2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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