For years, men have lived off the land, extracted all its resources, and transformed this planet into a home. Alas! We have forgotten that this home may very well be temporary if over-used. Here are a few disasters of the 20th century that were artificial and can haunt the general mass forever. This disaster and its consequences are not just limited to our environmental studies books but are affecting people in the 21st century and will keep affecting the environment for years to come.
The partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) reactor, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, 1979, is recorded as one of the most serious nuclear plant disasters in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history. The plant was experiencing loss-of-coolant, which led the reactor to overheat. It was later found that nearly half of the core melted during the first hours. Though it was contained within the building, unlike Chernobyl, this is still listed as one of the most severe and dangerous accidents of all time, which increased not only NRC’s (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) regulations towards the projects but also increased widespread distrust of them changing both the industry and the NRC forever.
In 1986, a sudden release of power destroyed Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the Soviet Union. After the incident, a huge amount of radioactive elements was released into the environment. The crews responded by pouring boron and sand on the debris to stop any further reaction. Not only did the environment get contaminated, but the government also carried out a massive deforestation program to reduce the contamination. Nearly 100,000 people were evacuated from the highly contaminated area. Children were mostly susceptible to contamination in their early years, and several cases of thyroid cancer in children find their source way back to this unfortunate incident. The structure could not contain the explosion, as was the case in the Three Mile Island Nuclear Explosion, because of the faulty and weak construction.
In 1984, the streets of Bhopal suddenly clouded with the poisonous gray gases coming from the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The plant suddenly released 40 tonnes of toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC), spreading all over the city. It left children and adults choking and gasping for air. The gas affected almost all the body systems and affected the genetic model of the people, whose results we still find in the later generations. According to the Madhya Pradesh government, about 4,000 humans alongside many cattle were found dead in the streets who could not reach the hospitals. It is regarded as one of the most horrible accidents ever in the history of hazards in India.
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, when the oil tanker carrying nearly 50 million US gallons of crude oil crashed and spilled 11 million US gallons of oil into the water, which was recorded as one of the most devastating environmental disasters by humans. It was the largest oil spill in the 20th century on U.S waters which killed several sea birds, sea and river otters, salmon, herring, bald eagles, etc. After a study in 2003, it was found that the oil was still trapped and resulted in the long-term loss of marine life. About 100 tonnes of oil remained in the area, which was discovered in a 2006 study. In 2010, it was estimated that at least 20,000 US gallons of the Valdez crude oil remained in Alaska’s water.
The Kuwait oil spill or the Gulf War oil spill is still regarded as one of the largest oil spills in 1991. Approximately 10,000,000 U.S. barrels were spilled. The oil seeped through the sand and stayed locked there for several years. The oil also washed ashore mainly in Saudi Arabia. Though it harmed marine life, in the long run, the oil spill did little less harm to the environment when compared to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
These are only the tip of the iceberg; the 20th century saw several large and small environmental disasters that have left their impact on the 21st century and will keep on affecting the coming generations. It’s high time we stop adding to the list.