Explore More Energy
help teacher resources contact us
web sites glossary careers explore more
profiles uses issues viewpoints
 


 

Nuclear Accidents

Three Serious Accidents
There have been three major nuclear accidents, one in the United States at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility in Pennsylvania; one in Chernobyl, Russia; and one in Tokaimura, Japan. The incidents, two of which occurred more than 15 years ago, continue to contribute to public fear of nuclear power. A nuclear meltdown is the greatest fear. When the core of a nuclear reactor gets hot enough, the controlled reaction becomes uncontrolled. When this happens, the nuclear core gets so hot it melts down, that is: radiation is released at extreme levels that are immediately lethal. A core meltdown would be catastrophic.

Chernobyl
According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Chernobyl accident in 1986 was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel and without proper regard for safety. The resulting steam explosion and fire released about five percent of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere and downwind into the surrounding area. Thirty people were killed, and there have since been up to ten deaths from thyroid cancer due to the accident. Many more people have serious health complications that they say were caused by Chernobyl.

Large areas of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and beyond were contaminated by radioactivity carried by winds. An authoritative United Nations report in 2000 confirmed that there is no scientific evidence of any significant radiation-related health effects to most people exposed. That finding is disputed by the Ukraine’s Health Ministry which estimates one in 16 of their population of 49 million suffers from grave health disorders linked to the disaster.

The greatest worry remains the visibly rusting concrete and steel structure covering the ruined reactor. A $758 million internationally-funded project is planned to make the structure environmentally safe

Three Mile Island
"On the morning of March 28, 1979, a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suddenly overheated. During the tension-packed week that followed, scientists scrambled to prevent the nightmare of a nuclear meltdown, officials tried to calm public fears and more than one hundred thousand residents fled the area. Equipment failure, human error, and bad luck would conspire to create an event that stunned the nation."

Explore More about this terrifying moment in American history at www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/three/.

Some say it was not the incident at Three Mile Island but the media’s reaction to it that created the enormous public fear of nuclear power. Read an article at www.acsh.org/publications/reports/island_0399.html

Tokaimura
In September of 1999, a uranium processing plant located 90 miles outside Tokyo a fission reaction went out of control and spewed radiation into the air outside of the plant. The accident occured when a worker mixed in the wrong amount of nitric acid into a storage tank holding uranium. Radiation levels were 10,000 times higher than allowed. In 1997 a fire and explosion also occured at the plant causing radiation sickness in 37 workers.

Read more about the accidents:
Local Fears: Residents Near Nuclear Accident Fearful Despite Assurances
Japanese Workers Dies from Radiation Exposure