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Top military nuclear accidents: 1950s

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Oct 21 2010
1 :See Windscale fire. Technicians mistakenly overheated Windscale Pile No. 1 during an annealing process to release Wigner energy from graphite portions of the reactor. Poorly placed temperature sensors indicated the reactor was cooling rather than heating. The excess heat lead to the failure of a nuclear cartridge, which in turn allowed uranium and irradiated graphite to react with air. The resulting fire burned for days, damaging a significant portion of the reactor core. About 150 burning fuel cells could not be lifted from the core, but operators succeeded in creating a firebreak by removing nearby fuel cells. An effort to cool the graphite core with water eventually quenched the fire. The reactor had released radioactive gases into the surrounding countryside, primarily in the form of iodine-131 (<sup>131</sup>I). Milk distribution was banned in a area around the reactor for several weeks. A 1987 report by the National Radiological Protection Board predicted the accident would cause as many as 33 long-term cancer deaths, although the Medical Research Council Committee concluded that “it is in the highest degree unlikely that any harm has been done to the health of anybody, whether a worker in the Windscale plant or a member of the general public.” The reactor that burned was one of two air-cooled graphite-moderated natural uranium reactors at the site used for production of plutonium. 582
2 See Kyshtym disaster. A cooling system failure at the Mayak nuclear processing plant resulted in a major explosion and release of radioactive materials. Hundreds of people died and hundreds of thousands were evacuated. 466

Top military nuclear accidents: 1960s

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Oct 21 2010
1 USAF B-52 bomber experienced a decompression event that required it to fly below 10,000 feet. Resulting increased fuel consumption led to fuel exhaustion; the aircraft crashed with two nuclear bombs, which did not trigger a nuclear explosion. 8126
2 The Soviet Hotel-class submarine K-19 suffered a failure in its cooling system. Reactor core temperatures reached , nearly enough to melt the fuel rods, although the crew was able to regain temperature control by using emergency procedures. The incident contaminated parts of the ship, some of the onboard ballistic missiles and the crew, resulting in several fatalities. The movie K-19: The Widowmaker, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, offers a controversially fictionalized story of these events. 1106
3 The USS Scorpion (SSN-589) sank while enroute from Rota, Spain, to Naval Base Norfolk. The cause of sinking remains unknown; all 99 officers and men on board were killed. The wreckage of the ship, its S5W reactor, and its two Mark 45 torpedoes with W34 nuclear warheads, remain on the sea floor in more than 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of water. 1066
4 A U.S. Transit-5BN-3 nuclear-powered navigational satellite failed to reach orbital velocity and began falling back down at above the Indian Ocean. The satellite’s SNAP-9a generator contained 17 kCi (630 TBq) of <sup>238</sup>Pu (2.1 pounds), which at least partially burned upon reentry. </ref> Increased levels of <sup>238</sup>Pu were first documented in the stratosphere four months later. Indeed NASA (in the 1995 Cassini FEIS) </ref> indicated that the SNAP-9a plutonium release was nearly double the 9000Ci added by all the atmospheric weapons tests to that date. The United States Atomic Energy Commission reported a resulting three-fold increase in global <sup>238</sup>Pu fallout. All subsequent Transit satellites were fitted with solar panels; RTG's were designed to remain contained during re-entry. 205

Top military nuclear accidents: 1970s

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Oct 21 2010
1 The Soviet November-class attack submarine K-8 sank with all 52 crew members after suffering fires in two compartments simultaneously. Both reactors were shut down. The crew attempted to hook a tow line to an Eastern Bloc merchant vessel, but failed. 36822
2 The Soviet submarine K-171 accidentally released a nuclear warhead. The warhead was recovered after a search involving dozens of ships and aircraft. 1106
3 In Area 8 on Yucca Flat, the 10 kiloton "Baneberry" weapons test of Operation Emery detonated as planned at the bottom of a sealed vertical shaft 900 feet below the Earth's surface but the device's energy cracked the soil in unexpected ways, causing a fissure near ground zero and the failure of the shaft stemming and cap. A plume of hot gases and radioactive dust was released three and a half minutes after ignition, and continuing for many hours, raining fallout on workers within NTS. Six percent of the explosion's radioactive products were vented. The plume released 6.7 MCi of radioactive material, including 80 kCi of Iodine-131 and a high ratio of noble gases. After dropping a portion of its load in the area, the hot cloud's lighter particles were carried to three altitudes and conveyed by winter storms and the jet stream to be deposited heavily as radionuclide-laden snow in Lassen and Sierra counties in northeast California, and to lesser degrees in northern Nevada, southern Idaho and some eastern sections of Oregon and Washington states. The three diverging jet stream layers conducted radionuclides across the US to Canada, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. 7
4 Cosmos 954, a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite with an onboard nuclear reactor, failed to separate from its booster and broke up on reentry over Canada. The fuel was spread over a wide area and some radioactive pieces were recovered. The Soviet Union eventually paid the Canadian Government $3 million CAD for expenses relating to the crash. < 5


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