Hundreds of nuclear power plants are scattered across the world. What are the odds of a nuclear accident near you?
In 2011, Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident startled the world. During the event: .
- Back up systems failed
- Officials were unable to grasp the magnitude of the accident
- Civilians had to evacuate quickly
Years after the nuclear accident, 250,000 people were still displaced and three of the plant’s melted nuclear cores had yet to be found.
Since 2011 some countries have stiffened their opposition to nuclear power, with Germany deciding to phase-out nuclear energy entirely,
Where Nuclear accidents could happen
Globally there are 444 operating nuclear power plants on Earth, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The United States has 99 operating nuclear power plants. Over time these numbers vary slightly as plants are retired or brought online.
Map of nuclear plants in the U.S., courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In theory, any nuclear reactor in the world has the potential for an accident if something unexpected happens. Unexpected things that can cause nuclear accidents include:
- Failure of key componets or systems
- Earthquakes, tsunamis or unexpected natural events
- Power blackouts at nuclear rod storage facilities
- terrorism at nuclear plants
Of course, this list leaves out the kind of black swan events that have yet to be imagined.
Find your nearest nuclear plant
It has also been noted that nuclear power plants are not adequately protected from the possibility of terror attacks, according to a report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP).
U.S. Plants are required to be capable of preventing attacks carried out by five or six people, but may not be prepared for attacks of a larger scale, according to the The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
On top of this, most power plants have batteries built to survive station blackouts (when both regular electricity and backup generators fail) for 8 hour time periods — the same as Fukashima, according to All Things Nuclear. Some are only built to last half of that time. If blackouts were to exceed the battery life, leaks would almost certainly occur.
Should we be worried?
Experts say, not so much. Including Fukashima, there have only ever been three major accidents involving nuclear reactors. That’s only three nuclear accidents in over 14,500 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 32 countries, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Basically, odds of accidents are slim, though existent. Reactors are built and designed to be safe on many levels, with robust backups to minimize the likelihood of issues and outages, and the means to prevent any major damages if they do occur.
It’s better to be prepared for the possibility of an emergency, just in case.