Nuclear power is often billed as the cleaner, more productive future of energy. In theory this claim holds true. However, the human dynamic dictates that accidents will happen. Since the generation of nuclear energy produces waste that can affect human populations and natural environments for centuries, this is a scary proposition. Nuclear devices have changed pop culture globally and irreversibly. Listed here are ten events that demonstrate the harmful potential of this harnessed energy source.
10. Lucens Reactor Partial Meltdown
Luckily, the world has yet to experience enough nuclear accidents to push this incident off of the list. The partial meltdown of Sweden’s Lucens reactor is in fact a tale of proper caution when dealing with nuclear materials. Unlike most of the perpetrators that come later, the facility that served to pilot Sweden’s nuclear power program was built in a cavern. A fault in the coolant system (something you might notice as being a recurring trend) resulted in the partial meltdown of the reactor core. The Swedes sealed the cavern and later decontaminated it. No casualties were reported. This accident is the best that it gets for nuclear accidents as our list becomes increasingly fatal.
9. Three Mile Island
In terms of health effects and overall impact, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island ranks rather low. It makes the list because its fame put it here. This accident is the worst that an American nuclear power plant has experienced to date. Its fame derives not from solely what and where it happened, but just as much from what might have happened. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident serves as a stark reminder about how close some of these plants are to populated areas and how easily a stroke of luck could affect us in a big way. The plant itself is named “Three Mile Island” because it is a mere three miles downriver from Middletown, Pennsylvania. There are also three cities (York, Harrisburg, and Lancaster) within 25 miles of the location. All of these areas could have been potentially radioactively poisoned and/over evacuated. These fears were largely incited through the Chernobyl Incident we will read about soon enough.
8. Soviet Submarine K-19 Nuclear Accident
If Captain Ahab donned a Russian accent and lived during the age of submarines, then it is likely his name would be Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev. Zateyev was the commander of K-19 during the time of its major crisis. K-19 was conducting drills in the Northern Atlantic when there was a malfunction in the nuclear reactor’s coolant system. What followed was one of the longest sail of shames in history. Zateyev refused help from the nearby American warships he was training to possibly destroy. When his crew grew displeased with being forced into a radioactive setting, their commander confiscated and threw all of their weapons overboard. The K-19 pill of pollution was dragged back home by a diesel powered sub where it fouled the waters. The sub was considered such a mechanical disaster that it was nicknamed “Hiroshima” by Soviet navy men.
7. Sinking of the USS Thresher
The USS Thresher was a nuclear powered submarine jam-packed with cutting edge technology. Sadly, the manufacturers overlooked one minor detail—ensuring that she’d stay afloat. She was launched in 1960 and endured a series of tests through the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast of the United States. The first problem with the Thresher was in 1961 when she had to get a jump start from a World War II era, diesel-powered sub (the USS Cavalla). Plagued by mechanical injuries, the Thresher was eventually brought north for extensive overhauls. The vessel sank during its first test drive after its renovation. Days later, it was formally announced that all 129 passengers were considered deceased.
6. The Windscale Fire
The post-World War II arms race was in full force and the UK didn’t want to be left in the wind. In an effort to develop their first atomic bombs, the British built two reactors: Windscale Pile No. 1 and Windscale Pile No. 2. In October 1957, sometime during a failed three-day process of annealing, a fire erupted in the reactor of Pile No. 1. Overall the amounts of casualties are estimated between 200-240 cases of cancer resulting from the fire and subsequent radioactive release. The first attempts at dowsing the flames came in the form of turning the plant’s fans full blast (which served to fan the flames) and the dropping of liquid carbon dioxide. Water drops followed to no avail. Finally, the engineers realized that starving the fire of oxygen was the only route to success.