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Nuclear power plant accidents - wikipedia |

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List of civilian nuclear accidents - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article lists notable civilian accidents involving fissile nuclear material or nuclear reactors. Civilian incidents not serious enough to be accidents are listed at List of civilian nuclear incidents. Military accidents are listed at List of military nuclear accidents. Civil radiation accidents not involving fissile material are listed at List of civilian radiation accidents. For a general discussion of both civilian and military accidents, see Nuclear and radiation accidents.

Scope of this article

In listing civilian nuclear accidents, the following criteria have been followed:
  1. There must be well-attested and substantial health damage, property damage or contamination.
  2. The damage must be related directly to radioactive material, not merely (for example) at a nuclear power plant.
  3. To qualify as "civilian", the nuclear operation/material must be principally for non-military purposes.
  4. The event should involve fissile material or a reactor.


  • December 12, 1952 — INES Level 5[citation needed] - Chalk River, Ontario, Canada - Reactor core damaged
    • A reactor shutoff rod failure, combined with several operator errors, led to a major power excursion of more than double the reactor's rated output at AECL's NRX reactor. The operators purged the reactor's heavy water moderator, and the reaction stopped in under 30 seconds. A cover gas system failure led to hydrogen explosions, which severely damaged the reactor core. The fission products from approximately 30 kg of uranium were released through the reactor stack. Irradiated light-water coolant leaked from the damaged coolant circuit into the reactor building; some 4,000 cubic meters were pumped via pipeline to a disposal area to avoid contamination of the Ottawa River. Subsequent monitoring of surrounding water sources revealed no contamination. No immediate fatalities or injuries resulted from the incident; a 1982 followup study of exposed workers showed no long-term health effects. Future U.S. President Jimmy Carter, then a Lieutenant in the US Navy, was among the cleanup crew.[1]
  • September 29, 1957 — INES Level 6 - Kyshtym disaster - Mayak, Russia (then a part of the Soviet Union)
    • The Kyshtym disaster was a radiation contamination incident that occurred on 29 September 1957 at Mayak, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant inRussia (then a part of the Soviet Union). It measured as a Level 6 disaster on the International Nuclear Event Scale, making it the third most serious nuclear accident ever recorded (after the Chernobyl disaster, and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, both Level 7 on the INES scale). The cooling system in one of the tanks containing about 70–80 tons of liquid radioactive waste failed and was not repaired. The temperature in it started to rise, resulting in evaporation and a chemical explosion of the dried waste, consisting mainly of ammonium nitrate and acetates (seeammonium nitrate bomb). The explosion, estimated to have a force of about 70–100 tons of TNT threw the concrete lid, weighing 160 tons, into the air.[2] There were no immediate casualties as a result of the explosion, which released an estimated 2 to 50 MCi (74 to 1850 PBq) of radioactivity.[3][4][5] In the next 10 to 11 hours, the radioactive cloud moved towards the northeast, reaching 300–350 kilometers from the accident. The fallout of the cloud resulted in a long-term contamination of an area of more than 800 square kilometers, primarily with caesium-137and strontium-90.[3] This area is usually referred to as the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).[6]
  • May 24, 1958 — INES Level needed - Chalk River, Ontario, Canada - Fuel damaged
    • Due to inadequate cooling a damaged uranium fuel rod caught fire and was torn in two as it was being removed from the core at the NRU reactor. The fire was extinguished, but not before radioactive combustion products contaminated the interior of the reactor building and, to a lesser degree, an area surrounding the laboratory site. Over 600 people were employed in the clean-up.[7][8]
  • October 25, 1958 - INES Level needed - VinčaSerbia (then Yugoslavia) - Criticality excursion, irradiation of personnel
    • During a subcritical counting experiment a power buildup went undetected at the Vinca Nuclear Institute's zero-power natural uranium heavy water moderated research reactor.[9] Saturation of radiation detection chambers gave the researchers false readings and the level of moderator in the reactor tank was raised triggering a criticality excursion which a researcher detected from the smell of ozone.[10] Six scientists received radiation doses of 2—4 Sv (200—400 rems[11] (p. 96). An experimental bone marrow transplant treatment was performed on all of them in France and five survived, despite the ultimate rejection of the marrow in all cases. A single woman among them later had a child without apparent complications. This was one of the first nuclear incidents investigated by then newly-formed IAEA.[12]


  • A core melt accident occurred at the Westinghouse Waltz Mill test reactor. From what information remains of the event, one fuel element melted, resulting in the disposition of 2 million gallons of contaminated water generated during the accident. At least a portion of the water was retained on site in lagoons, a condition which eventually led to detectable Sr-90 in ground water plus contaminated soil. The site is currently undergoing cleanup.
  • An error by a worker at a United Nuclear Corporation fuel facility led to an accidental criticality. Robert Peabody, believing he was using a diluted uranium solution, accidentally put concentrated solution into an agitation tank containing sodium carbonate. Peabody was exposed to 10,000rad (100Gy) of radiation and died two days later. Ninety minutes after the criticality, a plant manager and another administrator returned to the building and were exposed to 100rad (1Gy), but suffered no ill effects.[14][15]
  • October 5, 1966 — INES Level needed - Monroe, Michigan, United States - Partial meltdown
  • A sodium cooling system malfunction caused a partial meltdown at the Enrico Fermi demonstration nuclear breeder reactor (Enrico Fermi-1 fast breeder reactor). The accident was attributed to a zirconium fragment that obstructed a flow-guide in the sodium cooling system. Two of the 105 fuel assemblies melted during the incident, but no contamination was recorded outside the containment vessel.[16]
  • Winter 1966-1967 (date unknown) – INES Level needed – location unknown – loss of coolant accident
    • The Soviet icebreaker Lenin, the USSR’s first nuclear-powered surface ship, suffered a major accident (possibly a meltdown — exactly what happened remains a matter of controversy in the West) in one of its three reactors. To find the leak the crew broke through the concrete and steel radiation shield with sledgehammers, causing irreparable damage. It was rumored that around 30 of the crew were killed. The ship was abandoned for a year to allow radiation levels to drop before the three reactors were removed, to be dumped into the Tsivolko Fjord on the Kara Sea, along with 60% of the fuel elements packed in a separate container. The reactors were replaced with two new ones, and the ship re-entered service in 1970, serving until 1989.
  • Graphite debris partially blocked a fuel channel causing a fuel element to melt and catch fire at the Chapelcross nuclear power station. Contamination was confined to the reactor core. The core was repaired and restarted in 1969, operating until the plant's shutdown in 2004.[17][18]
  • A total loss of coolant led to a power excursion and explosion of an experimental nuclear reactor in a large cave at Lucens. The underground location of this reactor acted like a containment building and prevented any outside contamination. The cavern was heavily contaminated and was sealed. No injuries or fatalities resulted.[19][20]
  • De-fuelling and partial dismantling occurred from 1969 to 1973. In 1988, the lowest caverns were filled with concrete, and a regulatory permit was issued in December 1990. Currently, the archives of the Canton of Vaud are located in the caverns.[21]


  • Operators disabled three of six cooling pumps' electrical supply circuits to test emergency shutoffs. Instead of the expected automatic shutdown, a fourth pump failed causing excessive heating which damaged ten fuel rods. The accident was attributed to sticky relay contacts and generally poor construction in the Soviet-built reactor.[22]
  • Operators neglected to remove moisture-absorbing materials from a fuel rod assembly before loading it into the KS 150 reactor at power plant A-1. The accident resulted in damaged fuel integrity, extensive corrosion damage of fuel cladding and release of radioactivity into the plant area. The affected reactor was decommissioned following this accident.[23]
  • Equipment failures and worker mistakes contributed to a loss of coolant and a partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station 15 km (9.3 mi) southeast of Harrisburg. While the reactor was extensively damaged, on-site radiation exposure was under 100 millirems (less than annual exposure due to natural sources). Area residents received a smaller exposure of 1 millirem (10 µSv), or about 1/3 the dose fromeating a banana per day for one year. There were no fatalities. Follow-up radiological studies predict between zero and one long-term cancer fatality.[24][25][26]


  • March 13, 1980 - INES Level 4 - Orléans, France - Nuclear materials leak
  • A brief power excursion in Reactor A2 led to a rupture of fuel bundles and a minor release (8 x 1010 Bq) of nuclear materials at the Saint-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant. The reactor was repaired and continued operation until its decommissioning in 1992.[27]
  • March, 1981 — INES Level 2 - Tsuruga, Japan - Radioactive materials released into Sea of Japan + Overexposure of workers
  • An operator error during a fuel plate reconfiguration in an experimental test reactor led to an excursion of 3×1017 fissions at the RA-2 facility. The operator absorbed 2000 rad (20 Gy) of gamma and 1700 rad (17 Gy) of neutron radiation which killed him two days later. Another 17 people outside of the reactor room absorbed doses ranging from 35 rad (0.35 Gy) to less than 1 rad (0.01 Gy).[29] pg103[30]
  • April 26, 1986 — INES Level 7 - PrypiatUkraine (then USSR) - Power excursion, explosion, complete meltdown
  • An inadequate reactor safety system[31] led to an uncontrolled power excursion, causing a severe steam explosion, meltdown and release of radioactive material at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant located approximately 100 kilometers north-northwest of Kiev. Approximately fifty fatalities (mostly cleanup personnel) resulted from the accident and the immediate aftermath. An additional nine fatal cases of thyroid cancer in children in the Chernobyl area have been attributed to the accident. The explosion and combustion of the graphite reactor core spread radioactive material over much of Europe. 100,000 people were evacuated from the areas immediately surrounding Chernobyl in addition to 300,000 from the areas of heavy fallout in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. An "Exclusion Zone" was created surrounding the site encompassing approximately 1,000 mi² (3,000 km²) and deemed off-limits for human habitation for an indefinite period. Several studies by governments, UN agencies and environmental groups have estimated the consequences and eventual number of casualties. Their findings are subject to controversy.
  • A spherical fuel pebble became lodged in the pipe used to deliver fuel elements to the reactor at an experimental 300-megawatt THTR-300HTGR. Attempts by an operator to dislodge the fuel pebble damaged its cladding, releasing radiation detectable up to two kilometers from the reactor.[32]


  • April 6, 1993 — INES Level 4 - Tomsk, Russia - Explosion
  • A pressure buildup led to an explosive mechanical failure in a 34 cubic meter stainless steel reaction vessel buried in a concrete bunker under building 201 of the radiochemical works at the Tomsk-7 Siberian Chemical Enterprise plutonium reprocessing facility. The vessel contained a mixture of concentrated nitric aciduranium (8757 kg), plutonium (449 g) along with a mixture of radioactive and organic waste from a prior extraction cycle. The explosion dislodged the concrete lid of the bunker and blew a large hole in the roof of the building, releasing approximately 6 GBq of Pu 239 and 30 TBq of various other radionuclides into the environment. The contamination plume extended 28 km NE of building 201, 20 km beyond the facility property. The small village of Georgievka (pop. 200) was at the end of the fallout plume, but no fatalities, illnesses or injuries were reported. The accident exposed 160 on-site workers and almost two thousand cleanup workers to total doses of up to 50 mSv (the threshold limit for radiation workers is 100 mSv per 5 years).[33][34][35]
  • Operators attempting to insert one control rod during an inspection neglected procedure and instead withdrew three causing a 15 minute uncontrolled sustained reaction at the number 1 reactor of Shika Nuclear Power Plant. The Hokuriku Electric Power Company who owned the reactor did not report this incident and falsified records, covering it up until March, 2007.[37]
  • September 30, 1999 — INES Level 4 - Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan - Accidental criticality
  • Inadequately trained part-time workers prepared a uranyl nitrate solution containing about 16.6 kg of uranium, which exceeded the critical mass, into a precipitation tank at a uranium reprocessing facility in Tokai-mura northeast of Tokyo, Japan. The tank was not designed to dissolve this type of solution and was not configured to prevent eventual criticality. Three workers were exposed to (neutron) radiation doses in excess of allowable limits. Two of these workers died. 116 other workers received lesser doses of 1 mSv or greater though not in excess of the allowable limit.[38][39][40][41]


  • April 10, 2003 — INES Level 3 - PaksHungary - Fuel damaged
  • Partially spent fuel rods undergoing cleaning in a tank of heavy water ruptured and spilled fuel pellets at Paks Nuclear Power Plant. It is suspected that inadequate cooling of the rods during the cleaning process combined with a sudden influx of cold water thermally shocked fuel rods causing them to split. Boric acid was added to the tank to prevent the loose fuel pellets from achieving criticality. Ammonia and hydrazine were also added to absorb iodine-131.[42]
  • 20 metric tons of uranium and 160 kilograms of plutonium dissolved in 83,000 litres of nitric acid leaked over several months from a cracked pipe into a stainless steel sump chamber at the Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The partially processed spent fuel was drained into holding tanks outside the plant.[43][44]
  • November 2005 — INES Level needed - Braidwood, Illinois, United States - Nuclear material leak
  • Tritium contamination of groundwater was discovered at Exelon's Braidwood station. Groundwater off site remains within safe drinking standards though the NRC is requiring the plant to correct any problems related to the release.[45]
  • Thirty-five litres of a highly enriched uranium solution leaked during transfer into a lab at Nuclear Fuel Services Erwin Plant. The incident caused a seven-month shutdown. A required public hearing on the licensing of the plant was not held due to the absence of public notification.[47][48][49][50]


  • March 11–20, 2011 - INES Level 7[51][52](previously rating is 5[53]) as of April 12 (A final rating is expected after the situation has been completely resolved).
    Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, Japan - partial meltdowns in multiple reactors [54]
  • After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, the emergency power supply of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant failed. This was followed by deliberate releases of radioactive gas from reactors 1 and 2 to relieve pressure. On March 12, triggered by falling water levels, a hydrogen explosion occurred at reactor 1, resulting in the collapse of the concrete outer structure.[55][56][57][58][59] Although the reactor containment itself was confirmed to be intact,[60][61][62] the hourly radiation from the plant reached 1,015 microsievert (0.1015 rem) - an amount equivalent to that allowable for ordinary people in one year."[63][64] Residents of the Fukushima area were advised to stay inside, close doors and windows, turn off air conditioning, and to cover their mouths with masks, towels or handkerchiefs as well as not to drink tap water.[65] By the evening of March 12, the exclusion zone had been extended to 20 kilometres (12 mi) around the plant[66] and 70,000 to 80,000 people had been evacuated from homes in northern Japan.[67] A second, nearly identical hydrogen explosion occurred in the reactor building for Unit 3 on March 14, with similar effects.[68] A third explosion in the “pressure suppression room” of Unit 2[69] initially was said not to have breached the reactor’s inner steel containment vessel,[70] but later reports indicated that the explosion damaged the steel containment structure of Unit 2 and much larger releases of radiation were expected than previously.[69]
  • Disposed rods of reactor Unit 4 were stored outside the reactor in a separate pool which ran dry, yielding fire and risk of serious contamination.[71]
  • Staff was brought down from 800 Fukushima, who have been named the "Fukushima 50" by the press.[71] Events are still developing.
  • After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, the cooling systems for three reactors (numbers 1, 2 and 4) of the Fukushima-Daini nuclear power plant were compromised due to damage from the tsunami.[73] Nuclear Engineering International reported that all four units were successfully automatically shut down, but emergency diesel generators at the site were Damaged by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake[74] People were evacuated around 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the plant. An evacuation order was issued, because of possible radioactive contamination.[75][76] October 2011, events are still developing.

List of civilian nuclear accidents - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

NOTE: page at, created March 2011. good info, but needs to be updated - note: Fukushima INES level has been equalled with Chernobyl...

INES level
IAEA description
1986Chernobyl7Ukraine (USSR)Widespread health and environmental effects. External release of a significant fraction of reactor core inventory
1957Kyshtym6RussiaSignificant release of radioactive material to the environment from explosion of a high activity waste tank.
2011Fukushima5JapanReactor shutdown after the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami; failure of emergency cooling caused an explosion
1979Three Mile Island5USSevere damage to the reactor core

Nuclear power plant accidents: listed and ranked since 1952

How many nuclear power plants have had accidents and incidents? Get the full list and find out how they're ranked
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Satellite image of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
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Nuclear power plant accidents: Number three reactor of the Fukushima nuclear plant is seen burning after a blast following an earthquake and tsunami Photograph: Ho/DigitalGlobe
How often do nuclear power plants go wrong? How many accidents and incidents are there?
The explosions and nuclear fuel rods melting at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, following the Sendai earthquake and tsunami last week, have caused fears of what will happen next. Today Japan's nuclear safety agency has raised the nuclear alert level for Japan from four to five - making it two levels lower than the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
So far, the Japanese authorities have maintained that there is "no cause to fear a major nuclear accident".
We have identified 33 serious incidents and accidents at nuclear power stations since the first recorded one in 1952 at Chalk River in Ontario, Canada.
The information is partially from the International Atomic Energy Authority - which, astonishingly, fails to keep a complete historical database - and partially from reports. Of those we have identified, six happened in the US and five in Japan. The UK and Russia have had three apiece.
Using Google Fusion tables, we've put these on a map, so you can see how they're spread around the globe:
But how serious are they? The International Atomic Energy Authority ranks them using a special International Nuclear Events Scale (INES) - ranging from 'anomaly' to 'major accident', numbered from 1 to 7.
The events at Fukushima are level 5, so far and there has only been one 7 in history: Chernobyl in 1986. You can see the full ranking system below and on the attached spreadsheet

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