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Every year on August 29 the world observes the International Day against Nuclear Tests. It was established at the 64th session of the UN General Assembly on December 2, 2009. The underlying idea is to increase awareness about the ill effects of nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosions targeted towards achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Kazakhstan, together with several sponsors and cosponsors, had initiated the resolution to commemorate the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in the year 1991. In May 2010, following the institution of the International Day against Nuclear Tests, all state parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) committed themselves to the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.
Ever since the advent of the nuclear weapon testing in 1945, nearly 2000 such tests have taken place. The devastating effects of these tests on human life and earth's atmospheric balance are well documented and yet the governments have shown little consideration in this matter. In an urge to show their military might, the nuclear-armed states have been going about ruthlessly testing one nuclear weapon after the other. We are all aware of the devastating consequences of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed at least 129,000 people.
History has also shown us the terrifying effects of controlled nuclear weapons testing going awry. Nuclear weapons of today are far more powerful and destructive. Therefore, there is a growing need to capture the world's attention in a bid to put an end to further nuclear weapons testing
In view of the above, the observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests has become more important than ever. To quote the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon: "On this International Day against Nuclear Tests, I call on the world to summon a sense of solidarity commensurate with the urgent need to end the dangerous impasse on this issue."
So, on the occasion of the International Day against Nuclear Tests, I present to you a compilation of the most devastating nuclear disasters witnessed by mankind.
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The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site was closed in the year 1991. It was easily the most infamous nuclear test site in the world which had a devastating effect on the Kazakh life. For four decades, from 1949 to 1989, the 200,000 residents of the former Soviet district of Semipalatinsk were forced to live under the ominous shadow of a nuclear mushroom cloud. At least 456 nuclear devices, atmospheric as well as underground, were detonated at a site known as Semipalatinsk-21 which pretty much converted the human population into guinea pigs. The residents were forced to step outside their homes during the nuclear test blasts so that they could later be examined by scientists as part of studies on the effects of radiation on human life. Even today the after-effects can be felt. The air, water and soil have radiation levels 10 times higher than normal with one in every 20 children having serious congenital deformities. While many struggle with different types of cancer, a majority of the local population has died before attaining the age of 60.
With the surrender of the Nazi Germany, the Allies were desperate to the end the WWII. So, the United States, with the consent of the United Kingdom, decided to drop nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, a uranium gun-type atomic bomb called 'Little Boy' was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. About 90,000–146,000 people died in Hiroshima within the first two to four months, mostly from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries. Most of the dead were civilians.
When Japan refused to surrender after the Hiroshima bombing, the US dropped a plutonium implosion-type bomb called 'Fat Man' on the city of Nagasaki just three days later on August 9, killing 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki with roughly half of them dying on the very day. The victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are called hibakusha meaning explosion-affected people. The Japanese government has recognized about 650,000 people as hibakusha with 174,080 still alive as of March 31, 2016. About 1% of these have been diagnosed with illnesses caused by radiation.
Although it resulted in only a minor radioactive leakage, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island is regarded as the most serious nuclear accident in the history of the US. The accident is said to have raised anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists as well the general public, thereby paving way for adoption of stringent regulations for the nuclear industry.
The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on 26 April 1986 in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat. Large quantities of radioactive particles got spread over a large part of the western USSR as well as Europe. It was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated by inadequately trained personnel. While two plant workers died on the night of the accident, a further 28 people died within a few weeks because of acute radiation poisoning. It remains the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was a major accident at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, triggered by the tsunami following the Tōhoku earthquake on 11 March 2011. While the active reactors automatically shut down immediately after the earthquake but the tsunami waves destroyed the emergency generators deployed to cool the reactors. The insufficient cooling led to the nuclear meltdowns and the release of radioactive material. It is the second largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and also the second disaster to be given the Level 7 event classification (the maximum classification) of the International Nuclear Event Scale. Although there have been no fatalities directly linked to radiation leakage, the eventual number of cancer deaths caused by the accident, as per the estimates of Linear no-threshold theory of radiation safety, is expected to be around 130–640 people in the years/decades ahead.
The Windscale Fire was a nuclear accident of 1957 that occurred at the Windscale nuclear reactor facility and plutonium-production plant situated on the northwest coast of England. It remains Great Britain's most serious nuclear power accident. The accident took place on October 8 when a routine heating of the main reactor's graphite control blocks went out of control, resulting in rupturing of adjacent uranium cartridges. The fire burned for three days with the nuclear radiation contaminating parts of UK and Europe. Over 200 cancer deaths have been attributed to the disaster.