5 Most Toxic Abandoned Ghost Towns on Earth
1. RunitDuring the Cold War, US nuclear tests on the Pacific atoll of Enewetak totaled more than 30 megatons of destructive power......and included Ivy Mike, the first hydrogen bomb test that vaporized the island around it and sent fallout 35 miles (56 km) away.
So powerful was the explosion, that two new elements, einsteinium and fermium, were created at the detonation site......and scientists detected the shockwave in California, where they relayed a coded message to project staff: “It’s a boy.” Despite being still being home to native islanders, radioactive decontamination did not begin until 2 decades later......when in 1977, construction of the massive “Runit” Dome began in the crater remains of the atoll’s Runit Island.
Over 111,000 cubic yards (85,000 m3) of soil were scraped off the top of the atoll and dumped in the Cactus blast crater......to be capped with a 350 foot (105 m) wide, 18 inch (45 cm) thick concreate shell designed to contain the fallout. Runit Island was then abandoned, but cracks and leaks in the dome are threatening a nuclear catastrophe for the entire Pacific. Isotopes from the “nuclear trashcan” have been detected in China, and it is feared that a storm could soon break open the dome...
2. KantubekAlso devastated during the Cold War was the Soviet town of Kantubek, former population 1,500, located on Vozrozhdeniya......an “island” in middle of the Aral Sea that has now rejoined with the mainland as the inland sea continues to dry up. Its previous status as an isolated body of land far away from Soviet borders made it an ideal location for weapons testing......and Kantubek became one of the main laboratories for the Soviet Union’s secret Microbiological Warfare Group.
Code-named Aralsk-7, the site handled biological agents such as anthrax, smallpox, plague, brucellosis, and tularemia......all while Kantubek’s infrastructure grew to include schools, a stadium, and a four-runway airfield that are now abandoned. The island’s dangers remained a closely guarded secret, even after an accidental release of weaponized smallpox in 1971.
Despite killing 3 residents, concerns about the facility’s safety were only shared by defectors after the Soviet Union fell. In 1991, Aralsk-7 was completely evacuated, leaving a ghost town of abandoned biological weapons of mass destruction. The site remained the largest anthrax dump in the world until a 2002 cleanup destroyed 200 tons of the weaponized pathogen...
3. CentraliaIn 1962, the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania may have doomed itself in an ill-advised attempt to clean up an illegal dump......when, while trying to burn garbage in an old strip-mining pit, it accidentally set an underground coal seam ablaze. Efforts to put out the fire failed, but the problem remained mostly hidden until a gas station made a shocking discovery in 1979......finding that the gasoline in its underground storage tanks was being heated to a temperature of 172 °F (77.8 °C).
By that time, the underground fire had spread through coal mines running beneath Centralia at depths up to 300 feet (100 m)......burning at over 1,000 °F (540 °C) and emitting lethal carbon monoxide and toxic gases through cracks in the ground. Over the next several years, sink holes began appearing and swallowing residents who barely escaped with their lives.
More than 1,000 people had to be evacuated or forcefully removed by eminent domain as the town was condemned in 1992. Most of the abandoned buildings have been slowly demolished, but a small population of less than 10 have still refused to leave. It is estimated that the poisonous fire raging underneath Centralia could burn for another 250 years...
4. PicherDescribed as the most toxic place in America, the town of Picher, Oklahoma was completely dissolved in 2013. It now sits crumbling and surrounded by mountains of toxic heavy metal waste generated by years of lead and zinc mining. After mining operations ended, Picher was left with over 14,000 abandoned mine shafts and 70 million tons of mine debris......and even though the town was designated a Superfund site in 1980, residents stayed and suffered health problems for years.
It was not until 2006 that residents would begin evacuating after a study revealed the entire town was about to collapse. Mines running underneath Picher had been slowly eroding, and only a mere few feet of earth held the town up over a gaping abyss. A giant sinkhole claimed the life of one motorist before the government ordered the entire area surrendered for cleanup.
Many residents refused to leave, however, until a massive tornado destroyed much of what was left of the town in 2008. Faced with their a local apocalypse and air, water, and soil too toxic for the city to be habitable, Picher was finally abandoned. Despite the danger, the ghost town’s last remaining holdout held on until he died alone of a sudden illness in 2015...
5. FugushimaIn 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan and triggered a tsunami that reached heights up to 133 feet (40 m). Caught in the path of destruction was the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, which lost the ability to cool its fission reactors. Three subsequent core meltdowns and explosions within the units threatened to trigger an unprecedented radiological disaster......and the chaotic situation led foreign governments order the evacuation of non-critical staff from the entire country.
At the Fukushima complex, a 12 mile (20 km) exclusion zone was established, forcing 154,000 residents to flee their homes. Much of the surrounding area was abandoned to the nuclear threat, creating one of the most modern ghost towns in the world. While safety officials insist the risks of major radiation leaks are minimal, reports suggest the meltdowns remain out of control......and in 2017, a robot sent to inspect the cores fried after measuring radiation levels high enough to kill a human in seconds.
Residents are still barred from the closely guarded area amid reports of radioactive water leaks through cracks in the reactors. Attempts to cryogenically freeze the soil into a “wall” of ice failed, and radiation continues to flow into the Pacific Ocean...