When people think of nuclear disasters, they automatically think about movie-style blowups that include air raid signals, Chernobyl meltdowns, and of course, mutants that somehow managed to survive doomsday. Hollywood has somehow convinced us all that the only kind of nuclear disaster we have to worry about is another Chernobyl.
Though reactor meltdowns are one form of nuclear disaster, it’s technically not the only type out there. Things like nuclear bombings, radioactive waste dumps gone bad, and even things like nuclear test fallout all can be considered terrible nuclear disasters by environmental groups. And, if you think about all the different ways that nuclear waste storage has gone wrong in the past, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a lot of nuclear nightmares we really don’t talk about
Even if you may have learned of some of these historical moments in school, the true horror that comes with learning some of the smaller, more obscure details often is more terrifying than the stuff you’d read in a Stephen King novel. What’s even scarier is when you think about the fact that all these disasters were made by mankind, with absolutely no help from Mother Nature. It’s hard to deny the surreal, sinking feeling when you realize that it’s humanity’s fault that such tragedies have happened – or will happen in the future.
Unless you’re really into reading up on environmental disasters, you probably aren’t aware of the terror this particular brand of toxic mess can wreak. Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about some of the most unusual and deadly man-made disasters in the world.
18. Chernobyl’s Reactor Fire Was Beautiful
In the book Voices Of Chernobyl, a survivor of the nuclear disaster spoke about how people first found out about the fire. In the nearby city of Pripyat, locals actually watched the fire burn from their apartment buildings and told others to come out and see it too. The survivor in question said, “I can still see the bright-crimson glow, it was like the reactor was glowing. It wasn’t any ordinary fire, it was some kind of emanation. It was pretty.” The smoke that came from the reactor was said to be a light blue.
What’s really terrifying about this is that while they were watching, people were literally inhaling nuclear fallout and exposing themselves to radiation. The survivor who watched the fire burn also later said, “We didn’t know that death could be so beautiful.”
17. Radioactive Boars Are Taking Over Japan
The problem with nuclear radiation is that it takes millennia to die out. You can’t just expect it to go away after a couple of generations of breeding. In 2011, the Fukushima reactor explosion off the coast of Japan released huge plumes of radiation into the local area. The local wildlife was also affected – in particular, the wild boar population.
The problem with having radioactive boars should be obvious. They aren’t safe to eat, need to be buried in a proper manner, and also can cause serious damage to local agriculture. To make matters worse, officials are saying these nuclear piggies are multiplying faster than they can be culled. One city already ran out of public land to dispose of them, and it’s not totally certain how they are going to be able to find a place to store all of it.
16. One Man Was Involuntarily Kept Alive For 83 Days After A Radiation Blast
Radiation poisoning is known for being one of the most agonizingly painful ways to die. Hisashi Ouichi was a nuclear plant worker who was caught in a massive radiation blast while on shift in Japan. Ouichi had the misfortune of taking in a lethal dose of radiation at the plant so powerful that it destroyed all the DNA in his body.
At first, he seemed normal and was able to converse with doctors. Then, his skin turned black and began to fall off in chunks. All of his organs began to fail, and he was losing a staggering 20 liters of body fluids per day. At one point, he had begged doctors to let him die – but they refused because they needed to use him to study the effects of different treatments on him. Eventually, he was put in a medical coma to relieve his pain. 83 days later, he was dead.
15. People Who Lived In Contaminated Areas Often Have Their Own Class Of People
Because of the dangers that radiation can pose to people’s health, many people are very wary of possibly marrying or even hanging out with people who were exposed to a major nuclear blast. After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people who were caught in the blast had become known as “hibakusha,” and were often ostracized because of the potential effects of radiation.
But, the hibakusha were not the only people out there who suffered a from being associated with nuclear disaster. People who lived in the Chernobyl region, for example, often found themselves being turned away for help, jobs, and even dates because of their “Chernobylite” status. As a result, many people who were part of the disaster feel like their country abandoned them when they needed help the most.
14. Mutants Really Are Real
The problem with radioactive waste is that it destroys your DNA on a fundamental level. This is the reason why it causes birth defects. After the Chernobyl explosion, scientists went out to take a look at how the radiation had affected local wildlife.
What they found was that the brains of 48 different species of birds were found to be 5% smaller – which means that they may have suffered some decline in intelligence. Barn swallows were particularly affected on a physical level. Things like malformed beaks, distorted feathers, and albinism were very common. Even local spider webs seemed to be mutated, twisted, or downright messed up.
Meanwhile, in the Fukushima region, around ¼ of all pale blue grass butterflies showed serious mutations like malformed wings, missing legs, or even mutated wing patterns. Local monkeys exposed to the radiation also had lower red and white blood cell counts. And, one bunny born after Fukushima made headlines because it was born with no ears. So yes, mutations are real.
13. Local Governments Often Have To Alter Radiation Maximums So They Can Keep Food Supplies Up
Most governments have a maximum amount of radiation they will allow into food sources before they label the food to be dangerous. This is a normal function of government consumer protection issues, right? Nuclear disaster, however, can change those standards. After all, if all the food is dangerous, then they can’t just ignore the need to eat, right?
After the Chernobyl disaster, the Swedish government realized they had to do something to help out the local Sami people. The Sami, who are a subsistence-based culture, mostly ate reindeer meat that they themselves raised. The problem here is that Chernobyl’s radiation spread to Sweden and made the meat highly radioactive. Even after boosting the maximum dosage of radiation to 5 times the normal limit, 1/3 of all the Sami’s reindeer had to be culled in 1987.
12. Not All Nuclear Disasters Are Very Well Publicized
You may remember 2010 for a number of different reasons, but we’re willing to bet that nuclear accidents weren’t one of them. What many people don’t know is that there was a nuclear accident that took place in Mayapuri, India this year. In this accident, workers had accidentally sliced into some leftover radioactive Cobalt-60. They then sent the cobalt into a scrap yard, with one person carrying part of the stone in their pockets for days.
Though it’s not a massive disaster when compared to Fukushima or Nagasaki, this one did have a death toll. 8 workers were hospitalized and one even died due to radiation poisoning. For reference, no one died during the Three Mile Island fiasco in the United States, so this incident was actually worse by the numbers.
11. No One Knows How Many People Died From Lake Karachay’s Radiation
At one point, Lake Karachay had some of the freshest water in all of Russia. However, during the Soviet Union’s rule, this all quickly changed. With increased pressure to work on building nuclear arms and nuclear power, scientists in the area had to find a way to dispose of the radioactive waste. Their solution was to dump it all in Lake Karachay. This was all well and good, except for the fact that much of the waste was just POURED into the lake.
Eventually, it became a toxic cesspool that was too “hot” to stay in liquid form. Radioactive dust from the lake blew over into local communities, poisoning people and food supplies. As a result, many people in this Ural Mountain region get cancer or are born with birth defects. So far, a bare minimum of around 500,000 people have been exposed to radiation thanks to Karachay’s waste.
As a result of the health dangers, government officials filled most of the lake with concrete. Even so, walking for one hour on this concrete-filled lake will be enough to kill you today. To make matters worse, dumping still takes place here, and nowadays, Russian companies are also just dropping non-radioactive waste alongside the nuclear muck that already sits there. Chances are that this lake will remain toxic for the rest of Earth’s existence.
10. The Alligator People Of Hiroshima Were Real
When the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all hell broke loose. The blast caused people to suffer serious burns throughout most of their bodies. In some cases, the burns literally melted off limbs, faces, and eyes, leaving nothing but a charred creature that was once human shuffling around in its last hours of life.
In the historical book Last Train To Hiroshima, one survivor explained that it wasn’t the horrifying appearance of these people that sent chills down peoples’ spines. Here’s what author Charles Pellegrino had to say about them: “The alligator people did not scream. Their mouths could not form the sounds. The noise they made was worse than screaming. They uttered a continuous murmur — like locusts on a midsummer night.”
9. Animals Are Usually The First To Know When A Radiation Leak Happens
Most people can tell you that animals have an innate sixth sense when it comes to disaster being around the corner. Since the dawn of man, people have noticed that animals tend to know when hurricanes or tsunamis will happen – often because they tend to hide or wander to higher land before people see it coming. After the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, it also became clear that animals also can tell when something isn’t right with the radiation levels nearby.
In the book Voices From Chernobyl, multiple survivors mentioned that they knew something was wrong when bees wouldn’t come out of the hive and when the local birds kept crashing into people. Even earthworms wouldn’t come out of the ground. Every animal was acting strange before a state of emergency was even declared.
8. The Most Contaminated Nuclear Site In America Is Now A National Park
Hanford, Washington was once known as the place that housed the majority of the nation’s weapons-grade plutonium supply from 1942 to 1987. Nowadays, the area stores the leftovers of this nuclear era – a grand total of 53 million gallons of high-level, lethal nuclear waste. All this dangerous waste is stored in 177 tanks, and the problem is that 67 of these tanks have confirmed leaks.
The leaks have also been confirmed to be seeping into the local water supply by Bechtel, a contracting company that is slated to help clean up the mess. The leaked waste is slowly making its way to the Columbia River. Cleanup is a must, but there’s a problem holding contractors back. The dump already has locations called “Black Cells” – areas so toxic that no human being can go near them for 40 years.
Nuclear waste has already been found in animals, trees, and fish nearby. Alarmingly, people are still allowed to visit this location. In fact, in 2015, Hanford’s nuke site has been declared a national park and was renamed The Manhattan Project National Historical Park by authorities. Feel safe yet?
7. Sailors Have Gotten Radiation Sickness From Fukushima
During the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many people were worried about the safety of the seas, seafood, and of course, local people who have been affected by the radiation leaks. But, for the most part, the media did its part to cover it. One thing that they downplayed significantly, though, was what happened to seamen who were out on the waters near the power plant the days after the blowout happened.
Around 150 sailors had begun to experience radiation sickness as a result of working in the water those days. Their stories were gagged, and dismissed. They’re now in the middle of court battles to sue for compensation and to help get their stories out there. However, it’s not sure what will happen to them or their families after the court cases finish.
6. Las Vegas And The Surrounding Areas Have A Hidden Cancer Problem Thanks To A-Bomb Testing
After the bomb ended World War II, nuclear science was considered to be the way of the future. Nuclear weapons testing became a huge deal in Nevada’s deserts because of the bright blasts, the patriotism tied to it, and also the fact that it was just a really impressive display of military strength. The nuclear tests, incidentally, were actually visible on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Local bar and hotel owners capitalized on this, and even created a classic cocktail celebrating the A-bomb in all its glory. Pageants were held in honor of the bomb, and Vegas was, for a time, known as Atomic City because of the sheer tourism nuclear tests would bring in.
It sounds great and it sounds like something you’d expect to see in Fallout, but the truth is that this period of Vegas history had a very dark side. Thousands had begun to get thyroid cancer as a result of constant exposure to radiated sand that drifted over from the test sites. Many people in the area still get cancer from these tests today.
5. Radioactive Contamination Doesn’t Always Glow, And That Tricked People Into Poisoning Themselves
Radiation isn’t a typical threat. Unlike war or famine, you can tell what’s wrong. But, with radiation, everything looks okay. Nothing actually really glows when it’s contaminated with radiation levels – as the cleanup crew at Chernobyl found out. According to Voices From Chernobyl, one guy only realized something was amiss when he noticed that he couldn’t smell anything.
The fact that radiation is a hidden threat made it extremely difficult for cleanup crews to convince people that they needed to bury the food they grew, the pets they had, and leave all their clothes behind. As a result, people defiantly continued to eat the poisoned food they had because they thought the soldiers were crazy. Moreover, people still sold radioactive foods in local markets in times after Chernobyl’s disaster.
4. The Radium Girls Of Orange All Got Cancer From Their Jobs
Though radioactive contamination doesn’t typically glow, radioactive chemicals can. When radium was first discovered, people loved the fact that it glowed faintly in the dark. So, seeing the novelty, one company based out of Orange, New Jersey, decided to create watches that featured glow-in-the-dark radium paint on its watch hands. To make sure the watches were made, they hired local girls who would typically lick their paintbrushes to get a good precision tip.
After a while, the women all began to notice that their jaws would swell. They soon began to lose teeth and have a hard time chewing their food. One after one, every woman got cancer. And, the paint’s dust eventually leaked out into the general area. The city of Orange, for a while, had a faint yellow glow thanks to the paint. The victims who survived sued US Radium Dial for damages and won, albeit it was far too little to cover most expenses.
3. Black Rain Ruined People’s Lives After Hiroshima
When the bombs first hit in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most people could tell you that the blast was what instantly incinerated them. However, people often forget that the sheer power of the nukes had caused condensation to appear in the sky above. The end result was black, sludgy, radioactive rain that would fall from the sky.
Unlike regular rainwater, black rain permanently stained everything it touched. It felt oily or even tar-like. And, it could even be inhaled. Many people who weren’t affected by the nuclear blast came into contact with the black rain and then later died as a result of the radiation sickness. What’s unnerving is that this sludge’s particles can still be felt in Geiger counters today – 70 years after the bomb was dropped.
2. Victims Of Nuclear Disaster Often Can’t Be Buried With Regular People
When the Chernobyl disaster struck, family members of those afflicted had wanted to see their loved ones one last time. Unfortunately, the dose of radiation these people often received was so high that they couldn’t safely be buried without serious precautions.
In Voices From Chernobyl, one survivor who lost her husband in the Chernobyl accident said that they had tied her husband up in a cellophane bag, then put it in a wooden coffin. That coffin was then bagged, and placed into a thick zinc coffin to further contain the radiation. Lastly, every first responder who died had to be buried underneath concrete tiles.
Most of the first group of Chernobylites who died were buried in a national cemetery – primarily because they were worried the radiation would end up contaminating other places. And, most former Pripyat citizens who want to visit those graves often have to travel hundreds of miles to do so.
1. We’re Sitting On Ticking Time Bombs
Having a nuclear meltdown isn’t something that just affects a place for a decade or so. Similarly, nuclear waste dumps aren’t something that just go away. Since radioactivity can go on for centuries, this means these areas need constant supervision.
But, many of the methods we once used to contain radiation aren’t working anymore. Chernobyl’s radioactive waste is working its way into the groundwater, and that will likely render much of Europe’s drinking water deadly. Moreover, a single forest fire in the area could re-release radioactive particles into the air.
In Hanford, Washington, the double lined barrels that scientists “guaranteed” could store high-level waste are now leaking contents into the local environment. Radiation counters are also now showing unprecedented levels of radioactivity in Fukushima’s reactor. In some cases, we don’t even remember where we buried our radioactive waste!
Within the next couple of decades, we’re going to have to work on a solution to clean up the mess. Otherwise, we’re looking at a world that will no longer be habitable within our children’s lifetimes.