The Chances of Another Chernobyl Before 2050? 50%, Say Safety Specialists via Technology Review

And there’s a 50:50 chance of a Three Mile Island-scale disaster in the next 10 years, according to the largest statistical analysis of nuclear accidents ever undertaken.

The catastrophic disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima are among the worst humankind has had to deal with. Both were the result of the inability of scientists and engineers to foresee how seemingly small problems can snowball into disasters of almost unimaginable scale.

Given that most countries with nuclear power intend to keep their reactors running and that many new reactors are planned, an important goal is to better understand the nature of risk in the nuclear industry. What, for example, is the likelihood of another Chernobyl in the next few years?

Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Spencer Wheatley and Didier Sornette at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and Benjamin Sovacool at Aarhus University in Denmark. These guys have compiled the most comprehensive list of nuclear accidents ever created and used it to calculate the likelihood of other accidents in future.

Their worrying conclusion is that the chances are 50:50 that a major nuclear disaster will occur somewhere in the world before 2050. “There is a 50 per cent chance that a Chernobyl event (or larger) occurs in the next 27 years,” they conclude.

The nuclear industry has long been criticised for its over-confident attitude to risk. But truly independent analyses are few and far between, partly because much of the data on accidents is compiled by the nuclear industry itself, which is reluctant to share it.


The top five accidents ranked by monetary cost are the Fukushima accident in March 2011, the Chernobyl explosion in April 1986, a fire at the Tsuruga nuclear plant in December 1995, a fire at Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in September 1957 and an incident in March 1955 at Sellafield, then known as Windscale, two years before the infamous fire at the facility. Indeed, Sellafield appears five times in the list of the top 15 of most expensive nuclear accidents.


Nevertheless, Wheatley and co say their data suggests that the nuclear industry remains vulnerable dragon king events. “There is a 50% chance that a Fukushima event (or larger) occurs in the next 50 years,” they say.

Fukushima was by far the most expensive accident in history at a cost of $166 billion. That’s 60 per cent of the total cost of all other nuclear accidents added together.

The team calculate that a Chernobyl-scale event, the most severe in terms of radiation release, is as likely as not in the next 27 years. And they say a Three Mile Island event in the next 10 years has a probability of 50 percent.

Read more at The Chances of Another Chernobyl Before 2050? 50%, Say Safety Specialists 

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