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How many nuclear power plant meltdowns would it take to contaminate the whole earth?



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Photo: Rudolpho Duba /

The two most widely known nuclear accidents took place in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986 and in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. The exclusion zone arising from the Chernobyl disaster spanned an area of approximately 4,300 m² and in Fukushima it covered 2,400 m².
Our planet has a total surface area of 510 million m², which is 118,605 times the size of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
But what is interesting is the global development of extracting energy from nuclear fission. According to recent reports from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 435 reactors are currently operating worldwide. The majority of these reactors were built in the 1980s after an initial wave of constructions in the early 1970s. Between 1981 and 1990, 221 reactors went on line, most of them in the US, France, Japan and Russia. However, due to pressure following the Chernobyl disaster, many countries decided to either halt the construction of nuclear power plants or to not build them in the future. Austria and Italy, for example, opted out of using nuclear energy entirely.
At the moment, 73 reactors are being built worldwide. Newly industrialised nations like China, India and Brazil especially rely upon nuclear power to feed their countries’ substantial energy needs. It is also worth noting that, as opposed to fossil fuels, nuclear fission does not release climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For this reason, in 2009 the Swedish parliament decided to resume the construction of new nuclear power stations, but only on sites already existing for that purpose.
The attitudes towards and discussions around nuclear energy vary depending on how individual countries weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. In the last few years, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland have all decided to phase out the use of atomic energy. In Germany, all nuclear power plants currently in use will be decommissioned by 2022.

Susann Beetz of the Ideas 2020 Team answered this question.