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The Tip of the Radiation Disaster Iceberg

The Tip of the Radiation Disaster Iceberg

Photo Source Surian Soosay | CC BY 2.0

The World Nuclear Association says its goal is “to increase global support for nuclear energy” and it repeatedly claims on its website: “There have only been three major accidents across 16,000 cumulative reactor-years of operation in 32 countries.” The WNA and other nuclear power supporters acknowledge Three Mile Island in 1979 (US), Chernobyl in 1986 (USSR), and Fukushima in 2011 (Japan) as “major” disasters. ¶ But claiming that these radiation gushers were the worst ignores the frightening series of large-scale disasters that have been caused by uranium mining, reactors, nuclear weapons, and radioactive waste. Some of the world’s other major accidental radiation releases indicate that the Big Three are just the tip of the iceberg.

CHALK RIVER (Ontario), Dec. 2, 1952: The first major commercial reactor disaster occurred at this Canadian reactor on the Ottawa River when it caused a loss-of-coolant, a hydrogen explosion and a meltdown, releasing 100,000 curies of radioactivity to the air. In comparison, the official government position is that Three Mile Island released about 15 curies, although radiation monitors failed or went off-scale.

ROCKY FLATS (Colorado), Sept. 11, 1957: This Cold War factory produced plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons 16 miles from Denver. It caused 30 to 44 pounds of breathable plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 to catch fire in what would come to be known as the second largest industrial fire in US history. Filters used to trap the plutonium were destroyed and it escaped through chimneys, contaminating parts of Denver. Nothing was done to warn or protect downwind residents.

WINDSCALE/SELLAFIELD (Britain), Oct. 7, 1957: The worst of many fires burned through one reactor igniting three tons of uranium and dispersed radionuclides over parts of England and northern Europe. The site was hastily renamed Sellafield. Another large radiation leak occurs in 1981and leukemia rates soared to triple the national average.

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