The world’s worst nuclear accidents

Steam rises from the number 3 reactor of the Mihama Nuclear Plant in Mihama, Japan

As nuclear fears grip Japan, a brief history of past nuclear accidents:

» Chernobyl, Soviet Union (now Ukraine), April 26, 1986

The No.4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former Soviet Union exploded, causing the worst nuclear disaster in history. The explosion killed 30 people on the spot, released more than eight tons of highly radioactive material, contaminated 60,000 square km of land, and caused more than 3.2 million people to be affected by radiation.

» Kyshtym, Soviet Union (now Russia), Sept. 29, 1957

The cooling system failed, causing a non-nuclear explosion of dried waste. The Soviet government was forced to evacuate 10,000 people in the affected area after reports surfaced of people’s skin literally falling off. The radiation is estimated to have directly caused the deaths of 200 people due to cancer.

» Windscale Fire, Great Britain, Oct. 10, 1957

A fire broke out, destroying the core and releasing a cloud of radioactive material. The sale of milk and other produces from nearby farms were banned for a month. 200 people later developed cancer and died from exposure to radiation.

» Three Mile Island, United States, March 28, 1979

The cooling system failed, causing a partial core meltdown. It was the United States’ worst nuclear accident; it forced the evacuation of at least 150,000 local residents.

» Tokaimura, Japan, Sept. 30, 1999

A batch of highly enriched uranium was wrongly operated in a precipitation tank, causing a radiation accident that killed two workers. Nearly 100 workers and local residents were hospitalized for exposure to radiation.

» Mihama, Japan, August 9, 2004

One of the three nuclear reactors at the plant shut down automatically just before super-heated steam leaked from a turbine and scalded workers. Four workers were killed and seven others severely burned by a leak of non-radioactive steam.

» Erwin, US, August 1979

A uranium leak at a secret nuclear site contaminated over 1,000 people.

» Western Siberia, April 1993

An explosion at the secret Tomsk-7 plant in western Siberia released a cloud of radioactive gas. The number of casualties is unclear. 



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