While there may be some locales across the globe that are radiated naturally, there are plenty out there subject to high levels of radioactive waste thanks to the follies and inconsideration of mankind. From nuclear plants to nuclear waste dumping grounds, this list will cover the Top 10 Most Radioactive Places Caused by Man.
In 2011, an earthquake with an impressive magnitude of 9 was felt around the world, but none felt its devastation more than Northeastern Japan. Following the ground-shaking quake was a massive tsunami that would level entire portions of Japan. Amongst the effected regions was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which experienced a level 7 nuclear mountain due to the tsunami’s destruction. When the tsunami hit the power plant, a cooling system malfunctioned and the plant was faced with a massive meltdown. In 2013, after two years of skirting around the issue, Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO for short, confirmed that, since the disaster, up to 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium seeped into the Pacific Ocean. The disaster’s potential longing effect on marine wildlife remains a concern for scientists as the plant continued to leak 300 tons of radioactive water into the ocean daily.
When the topic of nuclear radiation comes up, the former Russian nuclear power plant, Chernobyl, is often the first that comes to mind. On April 26th, 1986, reactor four at the facility experienced a catastrophic surge of power which would lead to the explosion of its central core. The explosion occurred during the testing of a safety emergency core cooling feature. At the time of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April of 1986, the small nearby city of Pripyat was home to a population of roughly 49,000 people. It took 40 hours after the explosion for the residents of Pripyat to be evacuated, and many of them wound up suffering from radiation poisoning. The disaster was so significant that it released 1/100th to 1/1000th of the total amount of radioactivity that nuclear weapons testing in the ‘50s and ‘60s expelled. To date, the Chernobyl incident is only one of two level 7 nuclear events.
In the nuclear arms race, uranium is heavily used as a basis for all nuclear weaponry; and since it cannot be manufactured, it must be mined. Mailuu-Suu in the Jalal-Abad Province of Kyrgyzstan, was a mining town responsible for mining 10,000 short tons of uranium to be used for the Soviet nuclear program. A population of approximately 16,000 sits below a tectonically unstable hillside filled with 23 uranium tailing pits, which, in 1958, felt the effects of a landslide that released 6,000 cubic meters of waste. In 2002, a tailings pit became mostly submerged after a 1994 landslide damaged a waste reservoir.
The Polygon, Kazakhstan
Between the years of 1949 and 1989, the area of The Polygon was the testing site for over 456 nuclear tests – and that’s not even the most shocking part. Despite being a test site for nuclear weaponry, the “Semipalatinsk Test Site” was nearby a city with a population of nearly 700,000 people. Now-a-days, The Polygon is a part of the Kazakhstan region, and though the use of the facility had been kept under wraps until 1991, it has been said that upwards of 200,000 locals experienced health issues directly related to radiation. Ironically, in 2006, representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan chose The Polygon as the site for the signing of the “Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty”, which prohibits the manufacturing, testing, and possession of nuclear weapons.
Siberian Chemical Combine
Home to four decades worth of nuclear waste, the Siberian Chemical Combine is probably one of the worst maintained nuclear waste facilities today. Pools of liquid waste lay uncovered while containers filled with over 125,000 tons of solid waste remain poorly maintained. Beneath the facility, underground storage threatens leaks of radioactive waste into nearby groundwater. Surrounding the area, wildlife is effected by traveling radiation, carried over by the area’s rainfall. The city of Seversk, the home of the chemical combine, experienced an explosion at the Tomsk-7 Reprocessing Complex on April 6th, 1993 – an event large enough to make TIME Magazine’s top 10 worst nuclear disasters.
On the west coast of England, the nuclear reprocessing site, Sellafield, wreaks its own level of havoc against Mother Nature. Close to the Irish Sea coast, Sellafield is responsible for the 8 million liters of nuclear waste that dumped into the waters, making it the most radioactive sea in the world. Sellafield itself is also home to a range of disasters, with 21 serious accidents occurring between 1950 and 2000. Of these 21 incidents, one was rated a level 5 out of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, five at level 4, and fifteen at level 3. Though the site was decommissioned in 2003, there is still leftover fallout from the sites most hazardous buildings, B30 and B38, which are also the most and second-most hazardous industrial buildings in Europe.
Mayak Chemical Combine, Russia
The Mayak Production Association stands as one of the biggest nuclear facilities in all of Russia, which would make it highly susceptible to high levels of radiation – especially if there were to be an accident. On September 29th, 1957, the Mayak facility faced a nuclear disaster that measured a Level 6 out of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. To date, it is the third most serious nuclear accident to be recorded. The explosion was thanks to poor maintenance, as the cooling system in a tank containing 70 to 80 tons of radioactive waste malfunctioned. The neglect to fix it resulted in an explosion with the force of nearly 100 tons of TNT. Twenty-two villages surrounding the facility were affected by the incident, and most of the waste has since been dumped into a nearby body of water, Lake Karachay – which contains enough radioactive waste, that simplly standing near it would supply a lethal dose to a human being within an hour.
The Somalian Coast
During the series of tsunamis the Somalian coastline experienced in 2004, an abundance of rusting barrels of nuclear waste washed up on shore. According to the United Nations’ Environment Program, these barrels could have been dumped in these waters as early as 1990; but who is dumping them? Italian officials believe that the same people corrupted the Mediterranean also have a hand in destroying the Somalian coast. The Italian mafia is suspected of using ship wrecks to dispose of nuclear and toxic waste, a fact that former Italian mob boss, Francesco Fonti, has confirmed in past interviews.
The Mediterranean Sea
Speculation on just how the Mediterranean Sea became so radiated mostly revolves around the ‘Ndrangheta, a sect of the Italian mafia. According to popular theory, the ’Ndrangheta used the Mediterranean as a location to dump hazardous waste – amongst their many hauls being a large amount of radioactive waste. The waters are also very active routes for a range of vessels and Italian environmental protection company, Legambiente, believe that, since 1994, upwards of 40 ships carrying radioactive waste have disappeared in the Mediterranean. If it is assumed that these barrels of radiated waste were intact when the vessel sunk, the sea’s radiation level could likely sky-rocket when they start to degrade over time.
Hanford Site, Washington, USA
Residents of Washington State, USA may be slightly bemused to know that besides being home to the scenic Mt. Saint Helens, they’re also well known for having one of the most radiated locations in the world. The Hanford Site was an important part in the United States atomic bomb project. It was responsible for manufacturing plutonium that was used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, “Fat Man.” Though the site has since been decommissioned, it still houses two thirds of the United States’ radioactive waste, nearly 78 million gallons of solid and liquid waste. A Hanford National Monument rests less than 10 miles away from the nuclear site.