Worst Nuclear Energy Disasters

Worst Nuclear Energy Disasters

Since the beginning of the atomic age, there have been a handful of deadly accidents at nuclear plants throughout the world.  The following are the worst nuclear disasters on record to date, which involved at least one fatality, at a civilian nuclear facility.  Included in the article is the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rating.  This internationally accepted method of rating nuclear accidents is similar to earthquake moment magnitude scales.  The rating ranges from one (Anomaly) to seven (Major Accident).

6. Fukushima


Fukishima Nuclear Disaster


Location:  Ōkuma, Fukushima, Japan

Date of Incident: March 11, 2011

Deaths:  Zero due to plant operations, two died in the reactor plant from the tsunami, one man died during the clean up operation.  Thirty-seven sustained injuries, including two with radiation burns.

INES Level:  Seven (7)

Details:  The Fukushima nuclear disaster came in the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and  subsequent tsunami that decimated Japan.  The plant disaster included a series of meltdowns, equipment failures, multiple explosions, and the release of significant amounts of radioactive material.  The incident forced wide scale evacuation of the surrounding area.

Current Status:  Clean up operations are still ongoing.  Current projections indicate that the efforts will continue on for decades.

5. Marcoule


Marcoule Nuclear Disaster


Location:  Marcoule, France

Date of Incident:  September 12, 2011

Deaths:  One killed, four seriously injured in a blast.

INES Level:  N/A

Details:  The incident occurred at an oven used for the melting down of metal waste.  The amount of radiation leakage was minor.  However, one person was killed and four more injured in the blast.

Current Status:  The Marcoule Nuclear Site remains in operation.

4.  Bohunice Nuclear Power Plant


Bohunice Nuclear Disaster


Location:  Jaslovské Bohunice, Czechoslovakia

Date of Incident:  January 5, 1976 and February 22, 1977

Deaths:  Two killed.

INES Level:  N/A, Four (4)

Details:  In the 1976 incident, two plant workers died due to a coolant leak of carbon dioxide.  A more serious incident in 1977 was rated by the INES as four (4) on the scale when a fuel rod change resulted in overheating and damage to the active zone.  While no deaths occurred, it was the worst nuclear incident in Czechoslovakian history.

Current Status:  Since 1979 the plant has been undergoing decommissioning with an expected completion date of 2033.

3. Tokaimura


Tokaimura Nuclear Disaster


Location:  Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan

Date of Incident:  September 30, 1999

Deaths:  Two killed

INES Level:  Four (4)

Details:  The 1999 Tokaimura nuclear incident resulted in two deaths.  Until the Fukushima Daiichi disaster it was the worst civilian nuclear incident in Japan.  The accident happened when three workers were preparing a batch of fuel in a uranium reprocessing facility for an experimental breeder reactor.  Five hours after the fuel went critical, an evacuation commenced for households within a 350 meter radius of the conversion building.  Two of the three technicians involved died several months later from radiation exposure and injuries sustained.  Fifty-six plant workers and 207 local residents were exposed to elevated radiation levels.

Current Status:  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that the accident was caused by “human error and serious breaches of safety principles”.  The Japanese Atomic Energy Agency continues to operate a number of nuclear research facilities in the area.

2. National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS)


Idaho SL-1 Nuclear Disaster


Location:  Idaho Falls, Idaho, United States

Date of Incident:  January 3, 1961

Deaths:  Three operators killed.

INES Level:  One (1)

Details:  This incident was the one and only fatal nuclear reactor accident in the United States.  It occurred at the NRTS in an experimental reactor named SL-1.  The reactor was destroyed when a control rod was removed too far out of the reactor, which lead to a core meltdown and a resulting steam explosion.  The blast and concussion killed the three operators of the reactor.  Around 80 curies of iodine-131 was released due to the incident.  All three victims were buried in lead-lined coffins because of the radioactive contamination.

On a related note, the Three Mile Island incident, which occurred in March 1979, is often regarded as the most serious nuclear accident in American history.  However, it did not lead to the death of any individuals.

Current Status:  The reactor was destroyed, but the NRTS is still active.

1. Chernobyl


Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster


Location:  Pripyat and Chernobyl, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic

Date of Incident:  April 26, 1986

Deaths:  Forty-one to fifty-six directly, possibly thousands more by various cancers.

INES Level:  Seven (7)

Details:  The Chernobyl incident was the worst nuclear disaster in human history, both in terms of lives lost and scope of the disaster.  The incident was caused by a combination of operator error and serious design deficiencies.   The release of massive amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere was due to a power surge, an explosion, and fire at the plant.  The irradiated particles spread over the Soviet Union and Europe.  Compared to the atomic bombing Hiroshima in 1945, Chernobyl released four times the atomic material during the course of the disaster.  A number of mutations in both plant and animal life have been documented in the effected area.

Current Status:  The fires were eventually contained and the destroyed reactor was encased in a shelter (“sarcophagus”) to limit further radioactive contamination.  Over 350,000 people were forced to evacuate Chernobyl and the neighboring Pripyat.  The location remains uninhabited to this day.  The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is a 30 kilometer exclusion area around the destroyed plant, is still enforced.


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Zachariah Amela

Zachariah is a writer with Disaster.com and is an Information Technology professional. He has worked with and contributed to disaster relief organizations and has a strong interest in emergency management, wireless communications, Civil Defense, and family preparedness. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is married with children. When not working or writing, he enjoys time with the family, hiking, trap/skeet shooting, and reading.

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  1. Thanks for enlightening us on the worst ever disasters.I have never heard of this bohunice disaster.I am still wondering how the leak proved too fatal.Hoping there are no more additions...

    p.S : Marcoule..?/ Does anyone have more info on that metal waste part.
    p.S : Marcoule..?/ Does anyone have more info on that metal waste part.

    It was an oven used to melt down metal Low-level waste (LLW). The material had a very low level of radioactivity. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has some information on LLW material here.
    This is why I am always afraid of talks of building a power plant in my area. I just think of the worst and hope it doesn't get built. I have heard so many disaster stories about these types of plants. I am all for alternative energy sources, but this is one that outweighs the good some times.
    I remember Chernobyl like it was yesterday. Toxic clouds were sweeping over our region, and we were told not to go outside. Schools and shops were closed, and the streets were deadly quiet. It lasted for a few days while we anxiously watched the news, wondering abut this invisible poison that was infiltrating our town. For many months, dairy products and vegetables from nearby farms were out of the question, as the geiger counter registered high levels of uranium. I don't want to ever experience that again.
    Interesting read, I've only ever heard of 6, 2 and 1. Nuclear energy is tricky because it is the most efficient form of energy yet it is also the most potentially dangerous in terms of accidents. Chernobyl is by far the worst nuclear disaster in history. I just hope that it will stay that way and no other nuclear disaster comes close to it. Hopefully the world can find a way to shift to better sources of energy like solar and wind to the point that we can let go of nuclear power all together.
    I watched a documentary about Priyapat recently - it looked so eerie. They showed the inside of houses which had clearly been abandoned in minutes. It was so strange. They were still recording dangerous levels of radiation there and the film crew had to undergo frequent checks. I agree that we should shift towards renewables with the eventual aim to replace nuclear power completely.
    Yes, no one can argue about how terrible the Chernobyl incident was but, in my opinion, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was just as terrible. The incident happened shortly after the tsunami triggered by the Tohoku 9.0 magnitude earthquake destroyed coastal towns and cities. Half of the nuclear reactors overheated and blew up. It was a double whammy for the already battered country.
    It's terrible how much disaster nuclear power can cause. Radiation sure is a scary thing an the fact it stays around for so long makes it even worse. Since Fukushima, I've seen some reports on how they wanna improve reactor security and stability, but I was just wondering how this couldn't have been priority number one since day one and every day after that.
    I've read the other day the Fukushima disaster radiation has just started to reach the western coast of North America. Sure, it's going to be fairly diluted so it isn't going to be very dangerous for people, but still, it's not a nice thing to think about if you're living on the western coast. I am surprised how long it took the radiation to reach that area though. I would have expected it to get there in months due to the strong winds in the area.
    Chernobyl and other such nuclear disasters should have been a lesson to the powers that be that nuclear power is not something to be messed with. I have also heard that a lot of information regarding the Fukushima disaster is being censored and that a lot of the geoengineering (chemtrails) currently happening is actually to try to eliminate some of the radiation being spread around the world. Of course, they are saying it's just solar radiation management. The consequences of Fukushima are supposed to have spread far and wide but the authorities don't want mass panic happening.
    I hope this doesn't dissuade people from supporting clean energy. The Three Mile Island scare didn't cause any damage, and Chernobyl's was due to neglect. Nuclear energy is dangerous, but so are fossil fuels. I've seen a fuel manufactory explosion that killed around 100 people, back in the 90s. Non-renewable energy doesn't just carry risk; it is definitely causing damage to the environment for as long and as much as we use it! The disaster is ongoing.

    Chemtrails ... seriously? For those unfamiliar with said wackiness enjoy this article.

    Your cynicism about chem-trails not being true is all but your opinion, there are plenty of people with proof showing such Geo-engineering methods have been issued and practiced by the U.S. Government and many other worldly Governments post WW2. It is conspiracy, because it is a bunch of people "conspiring" for an agenda against the mass of people - most people dislike and knee-jerk to the word "conspiracy" because they take the word from a "implied" perspective and not from a "expressed" perspective. Rationalwiki is moderated and edited by a bunch of morons who believe they can know it all through reasoning and logic, even Socrates knew to be humble against nature despite his profound wisdom to reason - most articles from Rationalwiki are collectively bias grammatical puke from insecure and arrogant persons.

    Here's a more reliable and official article regarding Geo-engineering and chem-trails: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30197085
    Left leaning solar geoengineer from Harvard talking about chemtrails... or the lack of evidence supporting them... http://www.keith.seas.harvard.edu/chemtrails

    I'm not saying that every conspiracy concept is false - as a few have been proven true (http://www.infowars.com/33-conspiracy-theories-that-turned-out-to-be-true-what-every-person-should-know/) - but there is no real proof on chemtrails, and I find it hard to believe they are occurring. But... the great thing about debate is the opportunity to present opposing viewpoints and have others consider their validity, so I respect everyone's position. However, I'd humbly request that future chemtrail discussion move out of this thread on nuclear energy disasters to somewhere else.

    Since the beginning of the atomic age, there have been a handful of deadly accidents at nuclear plants throughout the world. The...

    Click here to view the article.

    The Chernobly disaster was the worst . An explosion and fire that releases large quantities of radio active particles into the atmosphere. It was one of that was classified as level seven event. There was a sudden and an unexpected power surge and an emergency shut down was attempted when a larger spike in power output occurred , which led to a reactor vessel rapture and a series of explosions. The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area.
    I know Chernobyl is a very terrible incident but I like the story of nature's reclamation decades after the tragedy. Many animals that were considered endangered species repopulated ever since humans abandoned the place. This may and crazy but elderly retired people decided t return t their Chernobyl houses. I remember the news report about this Grandma who decided to live n Chernobyl again. The government of Ukraine allowed the retired elderly people to live in their old houses again.
    I guess anyone would agree on Chernobyl as the worst one at the moment. I live in the north part of Italy and I remeber that my teachers said that when it happend there were spreaded the news that none should harvest nor eat potential contaminated vegetables. This shows how was terrible the disaster and caused discomforts even at a long range.
    I lived near Three Mile Island, when the incident happened, I think I as 8, but I remember them telling us to evacuate, so we went a few hundred miles away for the night.

    As far as energy, it is really a decision if you want to risk ´the big one´ or risk death by a million paper-cuts... which is basically what coal energy plants are as they slowly harm the environment.
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