This certainly looks like a beautiful place to go hiking with a tour guide. But what if I told you that you’re in one of the most dangerous spots in the world? This place is teeming with toxic radioactivity. Spend one minute too long here and it’ll be the death of you. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes right now. Radiation is all around us. If you’ve been on a plane or had an X-ray at the dentist, you’ve been exposed to tiny amounts of radiation. The radiation you’d receive by taking a 5.5-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles is nearly 100 times less compared to the levels you would experience in some of the places we’re about to take you. And you better pay attention, ’cause danger might be closer than you think. What should you do after being exposed to radioactive material? What are the symptoms of radiation sickness? And why shouldn’t you use conditioner?
Number 5: Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan
Located in Central Asia, this small town was practically built on nuclear waste. A large mining operation resulted in three million m2 (106 million ft2) of uranium being excavated and then simply buried, contaminating the region’s water. Specifically, the Mailuu-Suu river. Unfortunately, in this town cancer is quite common as a result. Between 2006 and 2015, of the 235 people diagnosed with cancer, 197 died. If you ever visit Mailuu-Suu, make sure to bring your own water and food supplies to avoid exposure to additional radioactive substances.
Number 4: Pripyat Hospital, Ukraine
After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, firefighters and first responders were brought to this hospital for treatment. Medical instruments, tools and documents were left in the building, as they were way too contaminated to be removed. Despite being a tourist attraction now, it’s forbidden to enter the hospital’s basement. Filled with the clothing worn by doctors and nurses, it’s a radioactive hotspot. Since official tours are given here, you’d be scanned for radiation exposure as you enter and when you leave. Even with that in place, you’d still need to be able to identify symptoms of radiation sickness. If you start to feel nauseous or your skin turns red or abnormally tan, you need to leave the area immediately and seek medical help.
Number 3: Puerco River, U.S.A.
Church Rock, New Mexico, has huge uranium ore reserves. In 1968, a large-scale mining operation was set up. Any waste was deposited in three lagoons fortified by a dam built on geologically unsound land. A decade later, the dam breached and poured 427 million L (94 million gal) of radioactive water into the river. The Puerco River supplied fresh drinking water to local communities for themselves and their livestock. As a result, people have suffered numerous health issues, including kidney damage and cancer. Play it safe. Bring your own water.
Number 2: Goiânia, Brazil
In 1987, a robbery at an abandoned cancer clinic went terribly wrong when two thieves found a teletherapy unit used for cancer treatment still equipped with a canister containing a bright blue substance. They brought it home and, without realizing it, exposed friends and family to very radioactive cesium-137. The device was sold to a local junkyard, where it was dismantled and the cesium-137 was released. Contamination was found over 161 km (100 mi) away, and more than 100,000 people had to be monitored for radiation exposure. If you’ve been exposed to radioactive material, it is crucial to decontaminate yourself. Remove the outer layer of your clothing, put them in a sealable container and take it away from yourself and others. Take a shower as soon as you can. Use soap and shampoo, but make sure to skip the conditioner. It can make radioactive material stick to your hair.
Number 1: Fukushima, Japan
In 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit the Pacific off the coast of Japan, triggering a massive tsunami that flooded reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Three of them started to leak radioactive material following a fire caused by hydrogen-air explosions. The spill meant 300,000 people had to be evacuated from the surrounding regions.
While the plant was shut down, wastewater continued to be released into the Pacific. It’ll take about 40 years to completely decommission the plant, so avoid taking a dip anywhere near it in the meantime. Phew, this was intense but you pulled through.
- World’s 11 Most Radioactive Places – the Consequences can be Devastating. Brown, M. (2022). Nature World News.
- These Are (Still) The 10 Most Radioactive Places On Earth. GRČAR, A. (2020). The Travel.
- Mailuu-Suu: Cleaning up Central Asia’s toxic uranium legacy. Madykova, J. (2020). Earth, Journalism Network.
- ‘Everyone here associates death with the mining’: the Kyrgyz town sitting on nuclear waste. EurasiaNet (2015). The Guardian
- How to Self-Decontaminate after a Radiation Emergency (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.