List of nuclear and radiation accidents by death toll

There have been several nuclear and radiation accidents involving fatalities, including nuclear power plant accidents, nuclear submarine accidents, and radiotherapy incidents.

List of accidents

Fatalities Incident Date Details
disputed Kyshtym disaster 1957, September 29 Death count unknown, estimates range from 50 to more than 8,000
disputed Chernobyl disaster 1986, April 26 [1]
disputed Windscale fire 1957, October 8 [2]
17 Instituto Oncologico Nacional of Panama 2000 August – 2001 March Patients receiving treatment for prostate cancer and cancer of the cervix receive lethal doses of radiation.[3][4]
13 Radiotherapy accident in Costa Rica 1996 114 patients received an overdose of radiation from a cobalt-60 source that was being used for radiotherapy.[5]
11 Radiotherapy accident in Zaragoza, Spain 1990 December Cancer patients receiving radiotherapy; 27 patients were injured.[6]
10 Soviet submarine K-431 reactor accident 1985, August 10 49 people suffered radiation injuries.[7]
10 Columbus radiotherapy accident 1974–1976 88 injuries from cobalt-60 source.[4][8]
9 Soviet submarine K-27 reactor accident 1968, May 24 83 people were injured.[4]
8 Soviet submarine K-19 reactor accident 1961, July 4 More than 30 people were over-exposed to radiation.[9]
8 Radiation accident in Morocco 1984 March [10]
7 Houston radiotherapy accident 1980 [4][8]
5 Lost radiation source, Baku, Azerbaijan, USSR 1982, October 5 13 injuries.[4]
4 Goiânia accident 1987, September 13 249 people received serious radiation contamination from lost radiotherapy source.[11]
4 Radiation accident in Mexico City 1962
3 SL-1 accident (US Army) 1961
3 Samut Prakan radiation accident 2000 February Three deaths and ten injuries resulted when a radiation-therapy unit was dismantled.[12]
2 Tokaimura nuclear accident 1999, September 30 [13]
2 Meet Halfa, Egypt 2000 May two fatalities due to radiography accident.[14]
1 Mayapuri radiological accident, India 2010 April [12]
1 Daigo Fukuryū Maru 1954, March 1
1 Louis Slotin 1946, May 21
1 Harry Daghlian 1945, August 21 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
1 Cecil Kelley criticality accident 1958, December 30 at Los Alamos National Laboratory.[15]
1 Wood River Junction, Rhode Island 1964 Operator error at nuclear facility, Robert Peabody died 49 hours later
1 Constituyentes Atomic Center 1983, September 23 Malfunction INES level 4 at RA2 reactor in Argentina, operator Osvaldo Rogulich died days later.
1 San Salvador, El Salvador 1989 one fatality due to violation of safety rules at 60Co irradiation facility.[14]
1 Tammiku, Estonia 1994 one fatality from disposed 137Cs source.[14]
1 Sarov, Russia 1997 June one fatality due to violation of safety rules.[14]

Events with disputed fatality counts

Chernobyl disaster

Estimates of the total number of deaths potentially resulting from the Chernobyl disaster vary enormously: A UNSCEAR report proposes 45 total confirmed deaths from the accident as of 2008.[1] This number includes 2 non-radiation related fatalities from the accident itself, 28 fatalities from radiation doses in the immediate following months and 15 fatalities due to thyroid cancer likely caused by iodine-131 contamination; it does not include 19 additional individuals initially diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome who had also died as of 2006, but who are not believed to have died due to radiation doses.[17] The World Health Organization (WHO) suggested in 2006 that cancer deaths could reach 4,000 among the 600,000 most heavily exposed people, a group which includes emergency workers, nearby residents, and evacuees, but excludes residents of low-contaminated areas.[18] A 2006 report, commissioned by The Greens and sponsored by the Altner Combecher Foundation, predicted 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths as a result of worldwide Chernobyl fallout by assuming a linear no-threshold model for very low doses.[19] A Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more.[20] A disputed Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 premature deaths occurred worldwide between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl.[21]

Kyshtym disaster

The Kyshtym disaster, which occurred at Mayak in Russia on 29 September 1957, was rated as a level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the third most severe incident after Chernobyl and Fukushima. Because of the intense secrecy surrounding Mayak, it is difficult to estimate the death toll of Kyshtym. One book claims that "in 1992, a study conducted by the Institute of Biophysics at the former Soviet Health Ministry in Chelyabinsk found that 8,015 people had died within the preceding 32 years as a result of the accident."[22] By contrast, only 6,000 death certificates have been found for residents of the Tech riverside between 1950 and 1982 from all causes of death,[23] though perhaps the Soviet study considered a larger geographic area affected by the airborne plume. The most commonly quoted estimate is 200 deaths due to cancer, but the origin of this number is not clear. More recent epidemiological studies suggest that around 49 to 55 cancer deaths among riverside residents can be associated to radiation exposure.[23] This would include the effects of all radioactive releases into the river, 98% of which happened long before the 1957 accident, but it would not include the effects of the airborne plume that was carried north-east.[24] The area closest to the accident produced 66 diagnosed cases of chronic radiation syndrome, providing the bulk of the data about this condition.[25]

Windscale fire

At least 33 cancer fatalities (estimated by UK government)[26][2] in Windscale, United Kingdom, on October 8, 1957. The Windscale fire resulted when uranium metal fuel ignited inside plutonium production piles; surrounding dairy farms were contaminated.[26][2]

Fukushima disaster

In a 2013 report, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) stated the overall health risks from the Fukushima disaster to be far lower than those of Chernobyl.[27] There have been no observed or expected deterministic effects. In pregnancies, there has been no expected increase in spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, perinatal mortality, birth defects, or cognitive impairment. Although soon afterward, sudden infant death spiked at nearly double the background rate in British Columbia[28], this cannot be conclusively linked to Fukushima, and the infant death rate returned to nominal after ten half-lives of I-131. Finally, there was no expected discernible increase in heritable disease or discernible radiation-related increases in any cancers, with the possible exception of thyroid cancer. However, the high detection rates of thyroid nodules, cysts, and cancer may be a consequence of intensive screening. In a 2015 white paper, UNSCEAR stated its findings from 2013 remain valid and largely unaffected by new information, and the new information further supports the statement that high thyroid detection is likely due to more intensive screening.[29]

None of the workers at the Fukushima Daiichi site have died from acute radiation poisoning,[30] though six workers died due to various reasons, including cardiovascular disease, during the containment efforts or work to stabilize the earthquake and tsunami damage to the site.[30]

In contrast, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal cites a 2013 Japanese study, which concluded that mortality due to "evacuation stress" from the area around Fukushima had reached more than 1600. This includes deaths from suicide and lack of access to critical health care, but not from radiation, increased cancer, or any other direct result of the nuclear accident. The author also states these deaths occurred among people who had been evacuated from areas where the radiation posed little or no risk to their health, areas where they would experience less exposure than the normal amount received by residents in Finland.[31]

There is a class action lawsuit brought by sailors on the USS Reagan against Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) who are allegedly suffering severe radiation induced illnesses. The USS Reagan was part of the operation "Tomodachi" to deliver essential supplies to devastated communities in the wake of the Tsunami on March 11, 2011. The wind was blowing out to sea from the Fukushima accident. If it had been blowing west instead of east, the sailors might not have been affected.[32][33]

See also


  1. UNSCEAR (2008). Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, Volume 1 (Report). United Nations.
  2. Sovacool, Benjamin K. (August 2010). "A Critical Evaluation of Nuclear Power and Renewable Electricity in Asia". Journal of Contemporary Asia. 40 (3): 393.
  3. "Investigation of an accidental Exposure of radiotherapy patients in Panama - International Atomic Energy Agency" (PDF). Report of a Team of Experts, 26 May–1 June 2001. International Atomic Energy Agency.
  4. Johnston, Robert (September 23, 2007). "Deadliest radiation accidents and other events causing radiation casualties". Database of Radiological Incidents and Related Events.
  5. Medical management of radiation accidents pp. 299 & 303.
  6. Strengthening the Safety of Radiation Sources Archived 2009-06-08 at WebCite p. 15.
  7. "The Worst Nuclear Disasters". 25 March 2009. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  8. Ricks, Robert C.; et al. (2000). "REAC/TS Radiation Accident Registry: Update of Accidents in the United States" (PDF). International Radiation Protection Association. p. 6.
  9. Strengthening the Safety of Radiation Sources Archived 2009-06-08 at WebCite p. 14.
  10. "Lost Iridium-192 Source". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  11. The Radiological Accident in Goiania p. 2.
  12. Pallava Bagla. "Radiation Accident a 'Wake-Up Call' For India's Scientific Community" Science, Vol. 328, 7 May 2010, p. 679.
  13. Benjamin K. Sovacool. A Critical Evaluation of Nuclear Power and Renewable Electricity in Asia, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 40, No. 3, August 2010, p. 399.
  14. István Turai and Katalin Veress (2001). "Radiation Accidents: Occurrence, Types, Consequences, Medical Management, and the Lessons to be Learned". CEJOEM. pp. Vol.7. No.1.:3–14. Archived from the original on 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  15. McInroy, James F. (1995), "A true measure of plutonium exposure: the human tissue analysis program at Los Alamos" (PDF), Los Alamos Science, 23: 235–255
  16. Mahaffey, James (2010). Atomic Awakening. Pegasus Books. ISBN 978-1605982038.
  17. UNSCEAR (2008). Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, Volume 2 (Report). United Nations. pp. 58, 64–65.
  18. "Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident". Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts. Retrieved 2011-04-15.
  19. "Torch: The Other Report On Chernobyl- executive summary". European Greens and UK scientists Ian Fairlie PhD and David Sumner - April 2006. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
  20. "The Chernobyl Catastrophe – Consequences on Human Health" (PDF). Greenpeace. 18 April 2006. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
  21. Alexey V. Yablokov; Vassily B. Nesterenko; Alexey V. Nesterenko (2009). Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences) (paperback ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-57331-757-3.
  22. Schlager, Neil (1994). When Technology Fails. Detroit: Gale Research. ISBN 0-8103-8908-8.
  23. Standring, William J.F.; Dowdall, Mark; Strand, Per (2009). "Overview of Dose Assessment Developments and the Health of Riverside Residents Close to the "Mayak" PA Facilities, Russia". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 6 (1): 174–199. doi:10.3390/ijerph6010174. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 2672329. PMID 19440276.
  24. "The Southern Urals radiation studies: A reappraisal of the current status" (PDF). Journal of Radiation and Environmental Biophysics. 41. 2002.
  25. Gusev, Igor A.; Gusʹkova, Angelina Konstantinovna; Mettler, Fred Albert (28 March 2001). Medical Management of Radiation Accidents. CRC Press. pp. 15–29. ISBN 978-0-8493-7004-5. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  26. "Perhaps the Worst, Not the First". Time. TIME magazine. 12 May 1986.
  27. UNSCEAR (2014). Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation (Report). United Nations.
  28. "Spike in B.C. sudden infant deaths concerns coroner". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2011-07-05. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  29. jaya.mohan. "Fukushima". Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  30. "No visible effects detected on workers in Japan nuclear plant, UN assessment finds". UN News Centre. United Nations. 23 May 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  31. (Japanese), (English version), (Original WSJ publication in English, paywall)
  33. "Stakes high as ailing U.S. Navy sailors take on Tepco over Fukushima fallout". 2014-03-10.
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