10 Nuclear Disasters You've Never Heard Of



10 Nuclear Disasters You've Never Heard Of

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Jordy McKen
Consider yourself lucky if you've never heard of these terrible disasters. For this list, we'll be taking a look at the biggest accidents involving nuclear energy that rarely get spoken about. Our countdown includes Yucca Flat, Three Mile Island, Windscale, and more.

10 Nuclear Disasters You've Never Heard Of

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re looking at 10 Nuclear Disasters You've Never Heard Of.

For this list, we’ll be taking a look at the biggest accidents involving nuclear energy that rarely get spoken about.

Which of our disasters in the video is the biggest? Let us know in the comments!

K-19 (1961)

North Atlantic Ocean
Not every nuclear accident happens in a power plant. During the 1950s and ‘60s, the Soviets rushed to manufacture the nuclear submarine K-19 as part of the Soviet Union and U.S arms race. In 1961, whilst training in the North Atlantic, the nuclear reactor’s cooling system had a leak that caused the reactor’s temperature to soar. The leak soon caused radiation to spread throughout the sub. The crew had to build a makeshift coolant system to stop the meltdown. However, it meant they had to make the ultimate sacrifice. The new coolant system was a success, yet the engineering team all perished before the end of a month’s time after the incident. Within two years, 15 sailors passed away from radiation injuries. Because of this, the K-19 was later dubbed “Hiroshima”.

Marcoule Nuclear Site (2011)

One part of the Marcoule Nuclear Site specializes in melting low-level radiated metal material in order to produce Mixed oxide fuel or MOX fuel. Well, in 2011, disaster struck at the Centraco Centre of the French site. As workers were going about their business and placing items into the large furnace, one of the waste products ignited and caused an explosion. One person sadly lost their life, while four others were injured. The explosion also caused a fire to break out at the site. Thankfully, it was quickly contained. Even though the blast caused a lot of damage, according to officials, no radiation escaped and leaked around the facility or into the environment.

Yucca Flat (1970)

Nevada, U.S.
Just an hour outside Las Vegas sits the Yucca Flat, an area where the U.S government has conducted over 700 nuclear tests! And in 1970, they had one of the worst tests of all time. In what’s known as the Baneberry test of Operation Emery, they detonated a nuclear device 900 feet below the desert. The safety shaft failed to work, so the explosion forced a fissure to open, causing radioactive material to be fired into the sky, with about 86 employees engulfed in the cloud. The government stated none of the workers received a radioactive dose higher than the guidelines. However, within 4 years after exposure, 2 workers passed away from leukemia. The families of the deceased workers sued the government. By 1996, the court ruled there was insufficient evidence the exposure caused the illness.

Sarov (1997)

In the 1940s, the town of Sarov – once known as Arzamas-16 – became the hub of nuclear weapons with the creation of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics. Then, the area was taken off unclassified maps after it became a closed town - all to keep their secrets, secret. In 1997, Russian Federal Nuclear Center senior researcher Alexandr Zakharov attempted an experiment with a sphere of highly enriched uranium. Unfortunately, due to incorrect procedures and faulty equipment, Zakharov received a huge dose of radiation at 4850 REM. He perished a few days later. In 2019, 5 Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation workers were slain from an explosion when testing what was reportedly a nuclear-armed missile nearby. The bodies were buried in Sarov.

North Star Bay (1968)

During the 1960s, the U.S ran the operation “Chrome Dome”. This was the process of keeping B-52 planes, armed with thermonuclear payloads, airborne at all times in order to strike the Soviet Union if required. In 1968, one B-52 experienced a cabin fire whilst over Greenland. The plane attempted to make an emergency landing at the Thule Air Base. However, it was too far away. Six of the seven crew managed to activate their ejection seats to safety. The final member perished whilst attempting to bail out. The B-52 crashed in North Star Bay where there was sea ice. The payloads detonated and spilled radiation into the surrounding area. American and Danish forces immediately descended onto the crash site to clean it up.

Three Mile Island (1979)

Pennsylvania, U.S.
With a mix of design flaws, mechanical failures, and insufficient training, the Three Mile Island reactor partial meltdown in 1979 became one of the worst nuclear disasters on U.S soil. Thankfully, there were no direct fatalities from the incident. The government authorities also examined the area for a rise in cancer cases from the leaked radiation. Yet, they didn’t find any significant increase. However, some other groups have claimed there was an increase. But overall, the lack of reliable data has made it difficult to be sure. After the incident, the clean-up operation lasted 14 years and finished in 1993. At the time, the cost was believed to have been $1 billion. Today, that’s $1.96 billion!

Windscale (1957)

United Kingdom
In 1957, a fire erupted in England at Windscale, now known as Sellafield, where the country’s first generation nuclear reactors were located. The fire was caused by a design failure of the plant being built to operate with plutonium yet switching to tritium later. This meant the reactor had to run at a higher temperature. The fire lasted for three days and released huge amounts of radiation into the surrounding area. Nearby milk supplies were found to contain iodine-131, which can cause thyroid cancer. So, the milk was eradicated. Fearing the public reaction, the government held back and/or limited reports of the incident for decades. In 2007, a study concluded that approximately 240 people around the site developed cancer from the radiation fallout.

Goiânia (1987)

Not every nuclear disaster is from explosions or fires. In 1987, a couple of scavengers took a teletherapy unit from the abandoned medical institute, Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia, located in Goiânia, Brazil. However, that unit still contained a capsule of radioactive caesium chloride. The scavengers, one of which later had to lose some of his fingers due to radiation burns, sold the unit to a junkyard. The owner was fascinated by the glowing material inside. So, he invited people over to look at it and even gave them some of the grains. They were all unknowingly irradiated and dispersed across the city, irradiating others along the way, eventually making their way to a hospital. Altogether, 249 people were irradiated, with four passing away a couple of months after exposure to the caesium chloride.

Tokaimura (1999)

Until 2011 in Fukushima, the worst nuclear incident in Japan happened at the J.C.O plant in Tokaimura in 1999. Three workers were attempting to create enriched uranium dioxide fuel. However, unbeknownst to them, they used seven times the quantity of uranyl nitrate required. This caused the reactor to reach critical mass. The three workers were exposed to massive amounts of gamma and neutron radiation from nuclear fission. Only one of the workers survived. A further 70 employees were also exposed to high radiation levels and further radiation leaked into the surrounding area. In 2000, J.C.O agreed to pay $121 million to settle 6,875 cases from the incident. A year later, several company employees pleaded guilty to negligence.

Kyshtym [aka Ozyorsk & Mayak] (1957)

Back in the ‘50s, with nuclear weapons all the rage, the Soviet Union wanted to get in on that. So, they cut corners to develop the testing site Mayak in Ozyorsk. The area, also known as Chelyabinsk-40 and Chelyabinsk-65, was a closed city unmarked on maps. In 1957, an underground tank of high-level liquid nuclear waste that was poorly stored erupted, firing radiation up to 20,000 sq miles around the area. The Soviets attempted to keep it quiet, but when 10,000 people nearby were evacuated within a week, it became impossible. To date, only Chernobyl has released more radiation into the environment than the Mayak explosion. The exact number of fatalities from the Kyshtym disaster, as it’s also called, is unknown, though there have been estimates that about 50 people got cancer due to radiation.