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RADIOLOGICAL THREATS: Nuclear Accidents

The World-Wide Risk: Nuclear power plants, research facilities, weapons production facilities, and nuclear weapon delivery systems are all extremely complex technological systems. They are systems that are operated and maintained by people that are less than perfect. Given these circumstances, accidents will happen, mistakes will be made, systems will malfunction, and components will wear out. One source has chronicled 954 accidents worldwide involving nuclear materials.1 These incidents have killed or injured thousands and contaminated thousands of square miles. The types of nuclear accidents and their frequency are identified below:

    • Nuclear Power Plants - 368
    • Research Facilities - 66
    • Nuclear Weapons Incidents - 12
    • Transport: Rail or Truck - 148
    • Submarine or Ship - 184
    • Airplane Accidents - 38
    • Missile/Space Launch Accident - 25
    • Production Facility - 38
    • Nuclear Test Site - 8
    • Fallout - 10
    • Commercial Operations - 43
    • Reprocessing Plants - 27
    • Suicide (using radiation) - 4
    • Murder/Attempts (using radiation) - 11
    • Medical Facilities - 40
    • Radioactive Waste: Storage/Disposal - 24
    • Theft/Recovery of Radioactive Materials - 25
    • Not Determined - 15

Note: Totals = 1,086 since some of the 954 reported incidents contained information on multiple events

To view a partial list of world-wide nuclear accidents since 1952, click here (PDF document).

U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Accidents: In the U.S. alone, Greenpeace has identified 196 nuclear power plant accidents that have occurred since the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986.2 Eight of these accidents have been judged by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be "significant near misses" to a core meltdown, which put millions of lives in danger. Another 49 were rated as "important near misses."3

There are 103 nuclear reactors in the U.S. and another 303 throughout the rest of the world. Many of these reactors are reaching their planned life expectancy of 30-40 years, making them even more prone to accidents. Similar conditions exist in the European Union that has 152 reactors in a land area that is half that of the United States but with twice as many people. This high concentration of reactors and people in a small area multiplies the exposure exponentially.

The Earthquake Factor, Japan and the U.S.: Japan, with 53 reactors and an even smaller land mass, faces similar risks as the European Union. But Japan has the added risk factor of earthquakes, with tremors occurring every five minutes and more than 2,000 earthquakes each year that can be felt by the populace.4 Magnitude 8.0+ earthquakes are expected every 100-150 years, with the last one occurring in 1854.5 Given the damage that occurred recently to the country's largest reactor during a 6.3 magnitude quake, an 8.0+ magnitude event could be catastrophic. The U.S. has its own problems with earthquakes and nuclear power reactors. There are twelve reactors located in earthquake zones that are rated "High" to "Probable" risk for earthquakes. Four of those are in California.

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From: http://standeyo.com/News_Files/NBC/Nuclear_Sites.html


Sources/Footnotes

  1. http://www.chris-winter.com/Digressions/Nuke-Goofs/Nuke-Goofs.html
  2. Greenpeace, "An American Chernobyl(PDF)"
  3. Ibid, pg. 3.
  4. "Japan's Many Earthquakes," News24.com, 07/16/07.
  5. "Tokai Earthquake Prediction - Japan," Geology.com, November 20, 2006.