Number 10: Myak
Located in northeastern Russia, Mayak is an industrial complex that experienced an accident in 1957 known as the Kyshtym Disaster. During this disaster, an explosion caused 100 tons of radioactive waste to be released into the environment, exposing more than 400,000 people to radiation. The International Nuclear Event Scale measured it as a 6, meaning it was the third worst nuclear disaster of all time. The only two that were worse were Fukushima & Chernobyl.
Number 9: The Santa Susana Field Laboratory
Located in the Simi Valley of Southern California, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory was used from 1949 until 2006. The complex had many uses over the years. It was used to research government-sponsored liquid metals, to develop liquid propellant rocket engines for NASA, & to house nuclear reactors. Over the years, four of the ten nuclear reactors experienced accidents.
Number 8: Three Mile Island
Mentioned earlier, this accident garnered much national attention & occurred in 1979 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. On March 28th, 1979, a mechanical failure at the site resulted in nuclear reactor coolant being leaked from one of the reactors. A large amount of radioactive gases & iodine was released into the environment. The damage was so bad that initially, all pregnant women & young children within a five-mile radius of Three Mile Island were evacuated. It eventually extended to a 20-mile & ultimately a 30-mile radius. About 140,000 of the 635,000 people in the area chose to evacuate. Many of these folks returned within weeks of the accident.
Number 7: McGuire Air Force Base
Located in Burlington County, New Jersey, the McGuire Air Force Base still operates despite problems with radioactive waste in the past. On June 7, 1960 a helium tank exploded, which in turn started a fire in a nuclear missile. After firefighters were able to put the fire out, it was initially determined that no radioactive contamination was present beyond the boundaries of the base. That prognosis would eventually change. In June of 1987, traces of a substance used in radioactive nuclear warheads were discovered almost a mile from the base. Experts determined by 2005 that at least 7 acres of the surrounding area had been contaminated & by 2007, the EPA fully recognized the extent of the problem. The EPA required the base to clean up the contaminants in July 2007.
Number 6: Sellafield
Located on the coast of the Irish Sea near Cumbria, England, Sellafield is a nuclear decommissioning & reprocessing site. From 1950 until 2001, there were 21 accidents that resulted in radioactive material being released. As a result, the area is highly contaminated & nearby residents have been suffering the consequences. Between 1950 & 1983, seven rare cancers were found in the Seascale Community The nuclear reactors at this site are currently being decommissioned.
Number 5: The Polygon in Kazakhstan
The Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan is also known as “The Polygon.” It was used as a testing site for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Over a 40-year period between 1949 & 1989, the USSR carried out over 450 nuclear tests here, exposing the environment & nearby residents to radioactivity. By most estimates, anywhere from 200,000 to 1.5 million people living near the Polygon have been affected by the radiation in one way or another.
Number 4: The Siberian Chemical Combine
Built in 1953, the Siberian Chemical Combine was crucial in the development of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program. It produced plutonium, highly enriched uranium, & was used to create nuclear warheads. A series of accidents at the facility exposed many nearby residents to harmful radioactive materials. In particular, after the Tosk-7 explosion in 1993, researchers discovered that cancer rates & other diseases increased in surrounding areas. Tens of thousands of people were exposed to radiation after the explosion while the water, air, & soil remained contaminated.
Number 3: Chernobyl
The Chernobyl Disaster is one of the most well-known nuclear disasters that has ever occurred. On April 26th, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Power Plant in Ukraine released radioactive particles into the atmosphere. Soon after the accident, radioactive particles began spreading over parts of Western Europe. 31 people died from the explosion. Billions of dollars of damage were done. While its exact cause is still unclear, statements reveal that it may have been due to either an operator error or design deficiencies. Documents declassified years later suggested that design flaws were likely the culprit. The amount of radioactive particles released from Chernobyl was four times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima…the same one that ended World War II. Some estimates claim that as many as 2.4 million people suffer from some form of Chernobyl-related health condition.
Number 2: Church Rock Uranium Mill
July 16th, 1979: the state of New Mexico experiences one of its worst manmade accidents of all time. When the disposal pond at the Church Rock Uranium Mill flowed over the dam, more than 1,000 tons of radioactive material & 93 million gallons of acidic, radioactive tailings poured into the Puerco River. The radioactive waste & material along with the acidic tailings traveled nearly 100 miles down river. It affected many residents of the area who depended upon the river for their livestock, irrigation, & other daily uses. Cracks eventually formed in the dam that allowed the waste to seep into the river. The accident caused the amount of radioactive waste in the water to increase 7,000 times the safe amount allowed in drinking water. The Navajo nation members were diagnosed with cancer at a rate much higher than other demographics.
Number 1: Fukushima
March 11th, 2011: a tsunami & earthquake trigger a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. The earthquake that occurred caused an ensuing tsunami, which led to power outages & equipment failure at the nuclear plant. As a result, three nuclear meltdowns occurred, which released radioactive material on March 12th. After the accident, radioactive material was released into the atmosphere for months. More than 80% of the radioactive material flowed into the ocean, severely damaging much of the marine life. The International Nuclear Event Scale uses a complex algorithm in which they determine the level of damage done by any given nuclear accident. This scale rated the Fukushima disaster as a 7, meaning it caused serious health & environmental problems along with widespread contamination. It will take years until the full extent on humans & the environment is fully realized.