10 Nuclear Disasters and Radioactive Incidents
Have you heard of the film “Hills Have Eyes”? Or the popular “Wrong Turn” film series? Villains from those movies are all believed to be victims of nuclear and radioactive disasters that mutated their ancestors’ genes resulting in scary carnivorous-eating human beings. Whether these incidents are true to alter genes and destroy neurological aspects of humans, one thing is for sure, nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents are true to life events and we do not want them to see flashing on the news screen. In this article, we listed down the top ten nuclear and radioactive disasters you might not know happened.
Here are the top 10 nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents.
- Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986)
On April 25 and 26, 1986, the greatest nuclear disaster in history occurred when a reactor at a nuclear power station exploded and burned in what is now northern Ukraine. Scientists believe that the zone around the defunct factory would be uninhabitable for up to 20,000 years after more than 30 years. The tragedy occurred near Chernobyl, in the former Soviet Union, which invested substantially in nuclear power after WWII, and which began installing four RBMK nuclear reactors at the power plant in 1977, just south of what is now Ukraine’s border with Belarus. V.I. was scheduled for routine maintenance on April 25, 1986. The fourth reactor of the Lenin Nuclear Power Station was shut down, and employees planned to use the time to see if the reactor could still be cooled if the plant lost power. During the test, however, personnel disobeyed safety regulations, and the plant’s electricity surged. Despite attempts to completely shut down the reactor, a power surge within set off a chain reaction of explosions. Finally, the nuclear core was exposed, resulting in the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Publicizing a nuclear disaster was thought to be a major political risk, but it was too late: the meltdown had already dispersed radiation as far as Sweden. Up to 30% of the 190 metric tons of uranium released at Chernobyl was now in the atmosphere. After evacuating 335,000 people, the Soviet Union established a 19-mile-wide “exclusion zone” surrounding the plant. At the time of the tragedy, at least 28 people had perished and more than 100 had been injured. Although some scientists have disputed the assertion, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation estimated that more than 6,000 children and adolescents acquired thyroid cancer after being exposed to radiation from the incident. According to international studies, around 4,000 persons exposed to high levels of radiation would eventually succumb to radiation-related cancer, while approximately 5,000 people exposed to lower levels of radiation will succumb to the same destiny. However, the accident’s full ramifications, including the impact on mental health and even future generations, are still being disputed.
- Fukushima, Japan (2011)
Following a massive earthquake, a 15-meter tsunami cut out power and cooling to three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, resulting in a nuclear catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011. In the first three days, all three cores melted to a great extent. Due to strong radioactive leaks during days 4 to 6, the accident was assessed level 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Due to the accident, all four Fukushima Daiichi reactors were written down. The three reactors (units 1-3) were stable with the addition of water after two weeks, and by July, they were being cooled with recycled water from the new treatment facility. In mid-December, the government declared a cold shutdown status. There were no immediate deaths as a result of the nuclear incident. The explosions injured at least 16 personnel, and scores more were exposed to radiation while working to cool the reactors and stabilize the plant. Three persons were reportedly rushed to the hospital after being exposed to excessive levels of radiation. The radiation’s long-term effects are still being debated. In a report released in 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the tragedy will not result in an increase in cancer incidence in the region. Official records reveal that there have been 2313 disaster-related deaths among evacuees from Fukushima prefecture. Scientists both inside and outside Japan feel that the hazards of radiation remain very low outside of the immediate vicinity of the plant.
- Yucca Flat, Nevada (1970)
Yucca Flat is a desert region one hour from Las Vegas that has served as one of Nevada’s nuclear test sites. The plug sealing the explosion from the surface shattered on December 18, 1970, while detonating a 10 kiloton nuclear weapon buried 900 feet below, spewing a plume of radioactive fallout into the air and poisoning 86 employees on the site. Aside from the localized radiation, radioactive particles were transported to northern Nevada, Idaho, northern California, and the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon. It’s also possible that radioactive material made its way into the Atlantic Ocean, Canada, and the Gulf of Mexico. Two workers from the Nevada Test Site who were present at the time died in 1974 of leukemia.
- Jaslovské Bohunice, Czechoslovakia (1977)
The nuclear power plant in Bohunice was the first in Czechoslovakia. The reactor was designed to run on uranium mined in Czechoslovakia and was based on an experimental design. The first-of-its-kind facility, however, was involved in a number of mishaps and had to be shut down more than 30 times. In 1976, two workers were killed, but the deadliest accident occurred on February 22, 1977, when a worker removed control rods erroneously during a regular fuel change. This minor oversight resulted in a major radioactive leak, earning a level 4 rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale of 1 to 7. As a result of the Soviet government’s cover-up, no solid estimates of casualties have been disclosed to the public. The facility was discontinued by the government in 1979, and it is scheduled to be completely decommissioned in 2033.
- North Star Bay, Greenland (1968)
A US Air Force B-52 bomber was flying a “Chrome Dome” mission on January 21, 1968, a Cold War-era operation in which US bombers with nuclear weapons stayed in the air at all times, all with nearby Soviet Union targets that could be destroyed if instructed. The four hydrogen bombs aboard the bomber caught fire. The nearest emergency landing spot was at Thule Air Base in Greenland, but the crew didn’t have enough time to get there, therefore the bomber was abandoned. The nuclear payload broke during the crash, resulting in radioactive contamination of the surrounding environment. The catastrophe was ranked as one of the greatest nuclear accidents of all time by Time magazine in March 2009. Following the 1968 incident, the “Chrome Dome” missions were immediately canceled, and more stable explosives were subsequently created so that nuclear weapons would be less likely to explode in an accident.
- SL-1, Idaho (1961)
The SL-1, or Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a nuclear reactor located forty miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho, in the desert. The reactor detonated on January 3, 1961, killing three personnel and producing a meltdown. The cause of the disaster was an erroneously removed control rod, however, the activities made by the personnel right previous to the catastrophe were never uncovered, despite a two-year investigation. Although a tiny amount of radioactive material was released into the atmosphere as a result of the accident, the reactor’s isolated position helped to minimize damage to the surrounding populace. Nonetheless, the incident is remarkable for being the sole deadly nuclear reactor accident in US history, as well as for driving a modification in nuclear reactor design to ensure that a single control rod error would not cause such catastrophic damage.
- Windscale, England (1957)
Windscale became the scene of the biggest nuclear disaster in British history on October 10, 1957, and the worst in the world until Three Mile Island 22 years later. A plant had been built there to generate plutonium, but when the United States succeeded in developing a nuclear bomb that utilized tritium, the facility was used to produce it for the United Kingdom. However, this necessitated operating the reactor at a higher temperature than its design could withstand, and it caught fire as a result. Operators were first concerned that quenching the flames with water would result in a hydrogen explosion, but as the crisis worsened, they gave in and did so. It worked, but not before a significant amount of radiation was released into the environment. According to 2007 research, the incident resulted in over 200 cancer cases in the nearby community.
- Kyshtym, Russia (1957)
The United States was the world’s leading nuclear power in the years following World War II. In order to keep up with the United States, the Soviet Union developed nuclear power reactors swiftly and cut corners. As a result of this, the Mayak facility in Kyshtym had a tank with a defective cooling system, which when it failed produced an explosion that contaminated about 500 miles of the surrounding area. The Soviet leadership initially refused to reveal what had occurred, but after a week, they had no choice. When some residents began to show signs of radiation sickness, 10,000 people were evacuated from the region. Despite the Soviet government’s refusal to release any details on the event, research published in the journal Radiation and Environmental Biophysics estimated that at least 200 people perished as a result of radiation exposure. In 1990, the Soviet authorities declassified details regarding the catastrophe.
- K-19, North Atlantic Ocean (1961)
The Soviet submarine K-19 was in the North Atlantic Ocean on July 4, 1961, when it developed a radioactive leak. Because there was no coolant system in place to prevent the reactor from overheating and exploding, the crew had no choice but to enter the nuclear compartment and plug the leak, exposing themselves to levels of radiation that would surely kill them. Within three weeks of the disaster, all eight crew members who had patched the leak perished of radiation sickness. The rest of the crew, as well as the submarine and the ballistic missiles it was carrying, were contaminated. K-19 was hauled to base after being intercepted by the submarine that had intercepted its distress signal. Then, over the period of two years, it was repaired, contaminating the surrounding environment as well as the repair personnel. Over the next few years, twenty of the submarine’s original crew members died of radiation illness.
- Goiania, Brazil (1987)
In Goiania, Brazil, one of the world’s worst nuclear contamination accidents occurred. A city-based radiotherapy institute had relocated, leaving behind a cesium chloride-filled teletherapy unit. Two scavengers discovered the unit on September 13, 1987, carted it away in a wheelbarrow, and sold it to a junkyard. The owner inadvertently exposed friends and family to radiation by inviting them to see the glowing blue material inside. They all went their separate ways after that, irradiating friends and relatives across the city. In total, 245 people were exposed to radiation, with four of them dying as a result.
A nuclear power plant disaster is unlikely to have any immediate health consequences for the general public. Because the amount of radiation present is too little to produce immediate injury or disease. However, there is the possibility of long-term health consequences. Many years after the exposure, cancer may occur or more harmful diseases that only time can reveal.