Have There Been Accidents Involving Radioactive Material in Space?

Yes, many. Three out of the 26 known U.S. space missions involving nuclear power have met with accidents, as have six of 41 known Russian missions. As reported by the Christian Science Monitor on December 17, 1996, these include:

November 1996. The Russian Mars 96 space vehicle disintegrates over Chile or Bolivia. Nearly half a pound (0.23 kg) of plutonium is thought to have been reached the ground.

February 1983. Russian Cosmos 1402 crashes into South Atlantic carrying 68 pounds (30.9 kg) of uranium 235.

January 1978. Cosmos 954 blows up over Canada with 68 pounds (30.9 kg) of uranium 235. Three-quarters of that is thought to have vaporized and spread worldwide.

April 1973. Russian Rorsat lands in the Pacific Ocean north of Japan. Radiation released from the reactor was detected.

April 1970. Apollo 13 lands south of Fiji. 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg)of plutonium 238 believed to be intact under the ocean.

1969. Two Cosmos lunar missions fail. Radiation detected as crafts burn up in the atmosphere.

May 1968. U.S. Nimbus B-1 lands in the Santa Barbara channel off California. 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg) of uranium 238 recovered.

April 1964. U.S. Transit 5BN-3 hits the Indian Ocean. 2.1 pounds (0.95 kg) of plutonium 238 vaporized in the atmosphere and spread worldwide.

Story on Titan IV
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