Top 10 List of the Most Expensive Accidents

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The aim here is to list out ten of the most expensive man-made disasters that have taken place over the years. The lives that have been lost are undoubtedly priceless and cannot be measured in monetary terms. RIP!


1. Chernobyl


In April 1986, Chernobyl’ was a dark city located on the Pripiat’ River in north-central Ukraine. Almost incidentally, its name was attached to the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant located approximately 25 km upstream.

On April 26, the city’s anonymity disappeared forever when, during a test at 1:21 A.M., the No. 4 reactor exploded and released thirty to forty times the radioactivity of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world first learned of history’s worst nuclear accident from Sweden, where higher than usual radiation levels were registered at one of its nuclear plants.

Ranking as one of the greatest industrial accidents of all time, the Chernobyl’ disaster and its impact on the course of Soviet events can hardly be exaggerated. No one could predict the exact number of victims. Thirty- one lives were lost immediately. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, Russians, and Belorussians had to abandon entire cities and settlements within the 30 km zone of the contaminated area. Estimates vary, but it is likely that some 3 million people, more than 2 million in Belarus’ alone, are still living in contaminated areas. The city of Chernobyl’ is still inhabited by almost 10,000 people. Billions of rubles have been spent, and billions more will be needed to relocate communities and decontaminate the rich farmland.

Chernobyl’ has become a metaphorical symbol not only for the horror of uncontrolled nuclear power but also for the collapse of Soviet system and its reflexive secrecy and deception, disregard for the safety and welfare of workers and their families, and inability to provide its citizens with the most basic services.

All in all, about 1.7 million people were affected and 200,000 had to leave the area. The overall cost is estimated at $200 billion.


2. Space Shuttle Columbia

The wing of the Space Shuttle Columbia was damaged after which it was destroyed. The shuttle cost $6.3 billion and the investigation cost was estimated at $500 million. Additional costs were estimated at $300 million. The overall cost was $13 billion.


3. Prestige Oil Spill

The Prestige oil tanker, in 2002, was carrying heavy fuel during a storm in Spain. One of the tanks burst and the captain asked for help multiple times but nobody followed his instructions. Naturally, the storm destroyed the ship and the tanker split after which 20 million gallons of oil was released into the sea. The cleanup cost was estimated at $12 billion.


4. Challenger Explosion

Because of a faulty O-ring, the Space Shuttle Challenger took a mere 73 seconds to deteriorate. One joint was not sealed because of which the gas reached outside. The external tank then released liquid hydrogen, resulting in an explosion. The replacement costs were $4.5 billion and other costs were estimated at $1 billion.

Significance? Many across the world viewed the launch live because of the presence of crew member Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to participate in the Space Project. Media coverage of the accident was extensive: one study reported that 85 percent of Americans surveyed had heard the news within an hour of the accident. The Challenger disaster has been used as a case study in many discussions of engineering safety and workplace ethics.


5. Piper Alpha Oil Rig

In 1988, a few technicians were carrying out a routine check of the valves and 100 valves were supposed to be replaced. However, they forgot to check one. The same night, one of them pushed a button which was attached to the liquid gas pump. What followed was the costliest oil rig accident in history. The entire platform burst into flames and collapsed. Over 150 workers died and the damages were estimated at $3.4 billion.


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