9/9/11 (AEIN) Mass-media coverage of events and issues surrounding nuclear power often makes reference to three nuclear disasters or accidents in history; Fukushima Daiichi, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. This gives the public an impression that very few such events have occurred since nuclear power first appeared. However, further research reveals that a number of serious but lesser-known accidents took place during the past 60 years in Europe, N. America and Japan.
A nuclear reactor near the city of Ottawa partially melted down in 1952 because several of the control rods were accidentally removed, according to the "Information Please" Almanac. Five years later, a reactor in England caught fire and released radioactivity that contaminated 322 sq. kilometers (200 miles) of land. Thirty-nine people died of cancers attributed to the radiation, according to The World Almanac. In 1976, a reactor in East Germany almost melted down after safety equipment failed during a fire.
Ten years later, a container of radioactive material exploded at a nuclear plant in Oklahoma, killing one employee and requiring the hospitalization of one-hundred others. In 1999, an accident in Tokaimura released large amounts of radiation, leading Japanese authorities to shut down highways and railroads as they warned area residents not to go outdoors. Only five years later, the Environment News Service reported that steam burst out of a reactor in Japan's Fukui prefecture, killing four workers and injuring seven.
Many of these incidents had the potential to become major disasters on a par with the meltdowns at Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi. Dangerous but less significant nuclear power accidents also happened in Switzerland, Japan and the U.S. states of Idaho, Michigan, Alabama and Tennessee between 1960 and 1982. On average, a serious accident occurred once every five years since 1951. It remains to be seen if this rate will increase as nuclear power spreads to more countries in South America, Africa and Asia in the years to come.