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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.

Japan is riddled with faults and is located at the junction of four tectonic plates. In the last 75 years, the Japanese archipelago or areas immediately offshore have experienced five earthquakes measuring more than eight on the Richter scale; and 17 measuring more than seven on the Richter scale. It is unusual for a year to go by without three or four earthquakes measuring 6.0 or more. Japan accounts for about 20 percent of the earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater on the Richter scale. Each day about 1,000 tremors that can be felt are produced in Japan. More than 130,000 quakes were logged in Japan in 2005. Each year nearly ten percent of the energy released in the world in earthquakes is centered around Japan.4

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. http://factsanddetails.com/japan/cat26/sub160/item866.html