Staring with the news of the coronavirus pandemic in March, we forgot to mention that no less terrible tragedies have occurred this month in the past.
March tops the sad list for most nuclear power plant incidents. The most dangerous of these are accompanied by melting inside the reactor. According to nuclear experts, such incidents should occur no more frequently than once every 250 years. However, reality refutes them. A total of three such accidents have been known to mankind since 1979, two of which occurred this month.
On March 28, 1979, the worst nuclear accident in US history was registered – the accident on Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. A number of human errors and material malfunctions are cited as the reason. They prevent the cooling of the nuclear reactor in a second power unit. The core of the nucleus melts. Although there was no explosion or significant release of radiation into the environment, 140,000 people were temporarily evacuated and the cost of cleaning activities amounted to nearly $ 1 billion. The total cost of the accident is estimated at $ 3 billion. Various sources mention one death and 100 irradiated. After the accident, the reactor was preserved, and the United States suspended 50 projects for new nuclear power plants.
Many remember the devastating earthquake of 9 level on the Richter scale in Japan on March 11, 2011, which led to a serious accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant. Not one, but three reactors melted there. The incident is defined as the most serious since the accident in Chernobyl in 1986. The International Scale of Nuclear Events even puts the incident on a par with the Chernobyl scale – degree 7. Although the 40-year-old plant withstood the earthquake, it failed to achieve a safe shutdown.The breakwater that protects the plant is designed to stopped tidal in up to 5.7 meters high, but the tsunami, which hit the coast about 40 minutes after the quake, was 14 meters high, disabling backup generators and leaving the reactor’s cooling system without power, followed by explosions in four of the six reactor.
On April 4, the owner of the TEPCO plant began releasing 10,000 metric tons of highly radioactive water into the ocean in order to free up space for storage of radioactive water pumped during rescue operations. Samples of seawater around the plant show the presence of radioactive cesium 1.1 million times above normal.
TEPCO has officially announced two dead workers. Two years later, more than 1,600 victims of the crash were reported. People’s lives within a radius of 80 km around the plant have been destroyed. The damage is worth hundreds of billions of euros and is borne by the whole society. The negatives for health and human lives are yet to become visible.
The ongoing work on clearing the pollution from the affected areas is expected to last at least 30-40 years, according to the plant’s management. In July 2012, a report by a special committee in parliament said that “the accident at Fukushima-1 was not a natural but a man-made disaster.” The Commission blames the TEPCO operator as well as the government’s nuclear services. On October 12, 2012, TEPCO acknowledged for the first time that it had not taken the necessary measures for fear that lawsuits or protests against nuclear power plants would begin.
March 11 is also linked to another nuclear accident in Japan. In 1997, the operation of the Tokaimura NPP was partially shut down after a fire and explosion. 37 irradiated were officially reported.
Again in March 13, 1980, a defect in the cooling system of Saint-Laurent A2, France, led to the complete melting of two of the fuel rods and the partial melting of the other two. There is a risk of accumulation of critical mass and uncontrolled nuclear reaction, which lead to melting of the reactor. This has been the most serious incident at a French nuclear power plant.
Bulgaria is also on the list of nuclear incidents in March. In 2006, the Kozloduy NPP refused to lower 1/3 of the rods of Unit 5, which slowed down the controlled nuclear reaction in the reactor. The incident was classified as second degree on a seven-point scale at Kozloduy NPP. This happened despite the fact that the system was repaired only 8 months earlier. The occurred on March 1, but was hidden for days. Even then-Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov denies anything serious has happened. We learn about the incident from the German and Austrian media.
About 550 nuclear reactors have been built in the world, of which about 430 are currently operating.
With the current number of reactors in the next 40 years, there is a 16% probability of a serious nuclear accident in Europe and a 40% probability worldwide, experts estimate.
Translator: Valentina Vagge