**It Happens! While the risk of nuclear accidents are rare compared to other power industries, like coal or oil and gas, when accidents do occur they make worldwide news. People must evaluate or shelter-in place. Plumes of radioactive fallout particles can enter the atmosphere and circle the planet spreading contamination in air, soil, food, and water that can last decades or longer. The photo shows the 1986 Chernobyl site after that accident. Reactor core meltdowns can leave the area around the nuclear power plant uninhabitable for generations. The current HBO series Chernobyl is generating tourist attention and today BBC reported on separating fact from fiction.
Union of Concerned Scientists provides a brief summary of 7 major accidents over the past 60+ years.
In addition, there have been many major safety incidents or lapses that could have caused major catastrophes, like the incident at Davis-Besse nuclear power plant located along Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio. I was working for NRC when this occurred in 2002 and heard from several experts as well as later at commission hearings about the serious event that was discovered during an inspection. Corrosion of the reactor head vessel could have caused a meltdown. Fines of over $30 million were levied by the government against the utility, FirstEnergy. They are currently in bankruptcy and Davis-Besse is set to close next year.
The International Atomic Energy Agency tracks accident and incident information provides a scale from 0 (not significant to safety) up to 7 (like the Chernobyl accident) called the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, INES. Here is a list of INES accidents and incidents “events” for the past 6 months with information from 74 participating countries rated between 1 (normal) to 3 (serious incident). These events include use of x-ray machines for medical and well field applications that caused harm to the operators.