The Worst Nuclear Power Plant Meltdowns in History

    March 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

    In the wake of the horrendous earthquake/tsunami that literally moved Japan 8 feet last week, the island nation is fighting tirelessly to prevent its Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant from suffering a critical meltdown.Let’s look back at some of the most catastrophic nuclear power plant meltdowns in the history of nuclear energy:

    The Chernobyl Incident

    The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located near the town of Pripyat, in the Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, the plant began testing (ironically) a new cooling system that was supposed to prevent a nuclear meltdown. Apparently, it didn’t work. A second power surge ruptured the outer shell of the reactor causing it to blow up. It’s like getting a cut on your arm, except that instead of just having a bloody elbow your whole entire body explodes instantly, and all the little particles of your body that shoot out of you are incredibly toxic and poison everything they touch. Not good.

    The Chernobyl Disaster blew a plume of radioactive dust into the atmosphere that drifted over Western Russia and pretty much all of Europe, settling mostly in Belarus. 336,000 people were evacuated and relocated, and the entire area is pretty much dead now and still highly radioactive. Surprisingly, the Chernobyl plant continued to operate until the rest of its reactors were finally shut down in 2000, when we can only assume that all of the plant’s employees were either dead or transformed into hideous, deformed nuclear monsters.

    Three Mile Island

    A nuclear reactor is basically a giant can with a constant nuclear reaction churning inside of it. It wants to explode all the time, because that’s what nuclear reactions do. The only thing stopping it from fulfilling its destructive destiny is a complex and highly developed cooling system that keeps the reaction at bay. It’s essentially a delicately controlled explosion. When the cooling part of that equation malfunctions for one reason or another, there’s nothing to hold the explosion back, and nature takes its devastating course. The Three Mile Island Incident was just your basic run-of-the-mill partial nuclear meltdown except that IT WAS IN FREAKIN’ PENNSYLVANIA.

    The reaction was the result of a small cooling system malfunction compounded by a stuck valve (just like the one in your shower) that allowed a whole bunch of coolant to leak out, and if there’s no coolant, the reactor explodes. Luckily, the reactor was brought under control and cooled down, so the event was declared only a partial meltdown. Despite being the most horrific nuclear disaster in American history, the radioactive gases that were released were not the dangerous kind (namely iodine-131), and there has been no evidence to suggest that the radiation has had any effect on cancer rates or any other horrific radiation exposure-related diseases.

    The Lucens Reactor Incident

    It was Switzerland in the 60’s, and building dangerous things in giant underground caverns was all the rage. In 1962, the Swiss built a huge nuclear reactor in one of the spare subterranean caves they had laying around, and everything was cool for a while. The cave-dwelling nuclear reactor was just doing its thing and everyone in Switzerland was eating chocolate and being jolly like they do. But like all things that live in caves, eventually the Lucens Reactor went crazy.

    In 1969, less than a year before it was scheduled to be decommissioned, water condensation caused a tiny piece of the reactor to become corroded. These nuclear reactors are delicate beasts, and that little bit of corrosion was all it took for the Lucens Reactor to go critical. Luckily, the Swiss did what they do best: they buried the crap out that S.O.B. The pesky reactor was shut down, the cave was sealed off, and none of the leaking radiation ever made it to the workers or the surrounding population. Nice work, the Swiss. Let’s just hope your chubby little Swiss children never decide to take up digging.

    The KS-150 Incident

    The KS-150 Nuclear Reactor in Czechoslovakia was opened for business in 1972, and over the next 7 years it experienced over 30 emergency shutdowns. There are countless reports of workers being hurt or killed as a result of gas leaks and other pesky Nuclear Reactor-related problems. A bunch of drunk fratboys could have managed the reactor with more poise than the Czechs did.

    In 1977, some engineers were doing routine maintenance on the reactor, but apparently they had never even seen a nuclear reactor before because they completely botched the job. All they had to do was replace the fuel rods. Who doesn’t know how to replace the fuel rods on a nuclear reactor?! A combination of operator error and just crappy design flaws caused the reactor to overheat. The Czech government has been extremely secretive about all of the problems with KS-150, but the reactor was decommissioned in 1979. They’ve been dismantling the reactor ever since, and they’re not scheduled to finish taking it apart until 2033. Note: don’t ever buy anything made in Czechoslovakia.

    The SL-1 Incident

    SL-1 was the name given to a military nuclear reactor built in Idaho in the early 60’s. In 1961, SL-1 suffered a critical meltdown, killing its 3 operators. It was a small-scale nuclear meltdown, but it’s the only nuclear meltdown in American history that resulted in casualties. The reactor overheated when its handlers improperly removed the control rod, which is a rod that absorbs neutrons in the reactor core and something that I’d never want to touch, ever.

    The improper removal of the rod caused the reactor to heat up rapidly and explode, killing the three guys running it and releasing a bunch of Iodine-131 into the air (that’s the bad stuff). The government didn’t consider the I-131 release a major problem, though, because they were in Idaho, and in 1961 the only thing in Idaho was three guys and a nuclear reactor.

    Let’s keep all keep our fingers crossed for Japan, and if you’re interested in donating to help the victims of the earthquake/tsunami double whammy, you can do so here.

    1. bob says:



    2. TheReviewer says:

      The Chernobyl Incident still shivers the hell out of me!

    Speak Your Mind
    Tell us what you're thinking... and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!