World Facts

Deadliest Nuclear and Radiation Disasters In History

The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster is the worst nuclear disaster in history both in terms of costs and casualties.

Few alternative energy sources can be considered dangerous for human and environmental health with the exception of nuclear energy. The biggest concern from using this type of energy comes from the potential for radiation poisoning and pollution. Nuclear technology produces radioactive waste that comes into contact with humans and the environment during reactor accidents and waste storage leaks. Humans may suffer from increased cancer rates and future generations from genetic defects. Radiation in the environment can result in significantly reduced plant growth, animal deaths, and birth defects as well. This article takes a look at some of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

The Worst Nuclear and Radiation Disasters in History

Perhaps the most infamous and greatest nuclear disaster in history is the Chernobyl Disaster. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine (formerly the Soviet Union) suffered a tremendous accident. During testing, an explosion occurred that ended in 9 days of fires and radiation emissions. There were 31 immediate deaths and an estimated 4,000 premature deaths from the effects of the radiation leak. Today, around 5 million people live in radionuclide contaminated zones, and they still lack the information they need to live healthy lives. An 18.6-mile radius area is still closed to humans and includes some lakes and forests. Concerns regarding birth defects and food contamination are always there.

The second-worst nuclear disaster in history was the Mayak nuclear waste storage explosion on September 29, 1957. This site produced plutonium for nuclear weapons and was a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. Twenty-two villages were exposed to radiation after this accident, and more than 10,000 people were evacuated, a full two years passed before all sites were evacuated. This disaster left 200 confirmed dead, the aftermath yet to be determined. The river and soil were contaminated and to control the contamination, officials excavated vast expanses of land and deposited it into enclosed areas.

The next disaster on the list are the radiation deaths at the Instituto Oncologico Nacional in Panama. This disaster was a radiotherapy accident that caused 17 deaths over the course of about seven months. The accident occurred because of a modification to the computerized radiotherapy treatment planning system in August 2000 and resulted in overexposing patients. The error was discovered in March 2001. In total, 28 people were exposed. Since then, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has developed a quality assurance and certification program for radiation oncology center throughout Latin America.

Other nuclear and radiation related disasters throughout history include: 1996 radiotherapy accident in Costa Rica (13); 1990 radiotherapy accident in Zaragoza, Spain (11); 1985 Soviet submarine K-431 (10); 1974 to 1976 Columbus radiotherapy accident (10); 1968 Soviet submarine K-47 (9); 1961 Soviet submarine K-19 (8); 1984 Morocco radiation accident (8).

Future Disaster Prevention

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concerns itself with all things related to nuclear facilities, including nuclear safety and security. In recent years, the nuclear power industry has improved reactor designs and performance. The IAEA activated the Convention on Nuclear Safety in 1996 and since then it was amended in 2015. The amendments include such protection measures as nuclear power plants are to be designed with accident prevention in mind, periodic safety assessments are to be implemented, and national regulation agencies must take into account the IAEA Safety Standards.

Deadliest Nuclear and Radiation Disasters In History

RankIncident DateDeath Toll
1Chernobyl disaster, Soviet Union198631 to 4,000+
2Mayak nuclear waste storage tank explosion, Soviet Union 1957200
3Instituto Oncologico Nacional radiation related deaths, Panama2000 to 200117
4Radiotherapy accident in Costa Rica199613
5Radiotherapy accident in Zaragoza, Spain199011
6Soviet submarine K-431 accident198510
7Columbus radiotherapy accident1974 to197610
8Soviet submarine K-27 accident19689
9Soviet submarine K-19 accident19618
10Radiation accident in Morocco19848

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