We are sure that most of you have watched Chernobyl and are up to date with the nuclear disaster that took place. However, that is not the only nuclear disaster. Here is a list of five other nuclear disasters that you might not have heard about.
The Kyshtym Disaster
Back in September 1957, Ozyorsk was a closed city in Russia that had been built around the Mayak plant that was producing plutonium for nuclear fuel and weapons. Mayak plant was built between 1945 and 1948, and all six of its reactors dumped high-level radioactive waste into Lake Kyzyltash initially. Once the lake was contaminated, they started dumping into lake Karachay that also became contaminated.
In 1953, workers created a storage facility for the liquid nuclear waste, but the waste was getting heated by the residual decay heat coming from the nuclear reaction. On September 29, 1957, after the coolers around one of the tanks failed; the tank exploded with a force of between 70-100 tons of TNT. There were no immediate casualties, but the explosion released about 20 MCi (800 PBq) of radioactivity into the air. A plume that had 2 MCi (80 PBq) of radionuclides, mostly cesium-137 and strontium-90, made its way toward the northeast and ended up contaminating an area of about 20,000 square miles.
At least 270,000 people were living in the area that is known as the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT). To maintain secrecy, no evacuation order was issued. However, about a week later, 10,000 people were removed from their homes. The death toll estimate goes from 200 to more than 8,000 based upon the study. The full detail of the disaster came to light when Zhores Medvedev disclosed it in the publication of the New Scientist. On the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), Kyshtym is rated as a 6 rendering it as the third-most serious nuclear incident.
The Windscale Fire
In under two weeks following the Kysthym, a fire broke out in Unit 1 of the two reactors that were located at the Windscale facility. The Windscale facility was situated at what is now known as Sellafield, Cumbria UK. The two reactors had been built to meet with Britain’s need for an atomic weapon after WWII. Considering that a uranium enrichment plant would cost ten times more as opposed to a nuclear reactor; it was decided that a nuclear reactor should be built for the sake of creating plutonium.
The cores of the reactors were made from a big block of graphite and featured horizontal channels that were drilled through the block for the fuel cartridges. Each cartridge had a foot-long uranium rod that was encased in aluminum. The reactor was being cooled down using convection from a 120 m tall chimney. It was then that Winston Churchill committed the country to the creation of a hydrogen bomb. The fuel loads at the Windscale were modified for the production for tritium, but this also made the core hotter.
On October 10, 1957, the core started heating up without control and reached the temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius. Although cooling fans were employed right away, it only worsened the situation, and it was then that the operators came to the realization that the core was on fire. They tried dousing the core in carbon dioxide and then water, but the efforts were in vain. They eventually cut off the air to the reactor building, thus starving the fire.
The fire sent about 20,000 curies of iodine-131, 594 curies of cesium-137, and 324,000 curies of xenon-133. The incident led to an additional 240 cancer cases, and the milk coming from 500 square kilometers of the countryside located nearby was destroyed. On the INES, Windscale is ranked at level 5.
Soviet Submarine K-19
K-19 was called Project 658-class submarines by the Soviets while NATO referred to them as Hotel-class. These submarines were the first-generation nuclear submarines that were equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles. K-19 was commissioned on April 30, 1961. During its initial voyage on July 4, it was carrying out exercises off the coast of Greenland.
It was then that the pressure in the reactor’s cooling system dropped down to zero because of a leak. The emergency SCRAM system inserted the control rods right away, but because of the decay heat; the temperature of the reactor rose to 800 degrees. The accident released steam that contained fission products throughout the ship via the ventilation system. It was the jury-rigged cooling water system that stopped a total meltdown of the reactor core from taking place.
The accident irradiated the K-19’s crew, ship, and even some of the ballistic missiles. Within a month; all eight members of the ship’s engineering crew passed away because of radiation exposure. They are Boris Korchilov, Boris Ryzhikov, Yuriy Ordochkin, Evgeny Kashenkov, Semyon Penkov, Nicolai Savkin, Valery Charitonov, and Yuriy Povstyev. K-19 was eventually dumped into the Kara Sea.
The Goiânia Accident
The Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia (IGR) was a private radiotherapy hospital in Goiânia, Brazil, back in the 1980s. Upon moving to a new facility in 1985, a therapy unit that was based on cesium-137 was left behind. The cesium-137 was encased using a shielding canister that was made from steel and lead. Because of legality issues, the canister could not be removed from the facility, and the court posted a security guard for the protection of the equipment.
The guard was not present on September 13, 1987, when Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira broke into the facility and took off with the equipment. They placed it in a wheelbarrow and took it to Alves’ house. The dismantling of the equipment started, and both men started vomiting. The next day Pereira noticed a burn on his hand that led to the amputation of several fingers. Alves was able to pierce the canister using a screwdriver and saw the blue light of Cherenkov radiation.
To cut a long story short, by the time the news of the radioactive leak was broadcasted; it was too late. A total of 250 people had been affected, and 129 people had internal contamination. A total of four persons died. The incident as ranked as a number 5 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.
Chalk River Ontario, Canada Incident
A power excursion and partial loss of coolant in the NRX reactor at the Chalk River nuclear laboratories took place on December 12, 1952. Owing to mechanical issues, control rods couldn’t be inserted into the core and the fuel rods overheated eventually causing a meltdown of the core. Hydrogen gas resulted in an explosion that took off the multi-ton reactor vessel seal, and 4,500 tons of radioactive water was found in the basement of the Chalk River reactor building. Ten thousand curies worth radioactive material was released into the atmosphere. On the INES, Chalk River is a 5.