Episode 36 - Piper Alpha Oil Platform Explosion 1988
At its peak, the Piper Alpha oil platform was producing 300,000 barrels of oil a day, or 10% of Britain’s total oil production from just one platform. In 1980, the platform was modified to drill for natural gas in addition to oil. In 1988, the rig was due for major maintenance and upgrades. The operator, Occidental Petroleum, made the decision not to shut production down during this work. When a safety valve was removed for scheduled repairs it initiated a series of errors and events that led to a massive explosion that took the lives of 167 workers.
Episode 37 - The Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Accident, 1986
In 1986, Russia was still communist and Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. The town of Chernobyl in northern Ukraine was home to a major nuclear power plant that produced 10% of Ukraine’s electrical needs. During a late night safety test, inherent reactor design flaws along with operator error resulted in an uncontrolled reaction that resulted in a steam explosion and eventually a graphite fire. For the next 9 days, plumes of fissionable material were lofted into the air eventually dropping back down on the USSR and Europe.
Episode 38 - The Halifax and Texas City Ship Explosions
During World War I, the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia was one of the busiest and most important bases for the Allied cause in North America. On the morning of December 6, 1917, the French cargo ship, SS Mont-Blanc, laden with high explosives collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo, setting the Mont-Blanc on fire. When the ordinance on board the French vessel ignited, it caused the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons.
Thirty years later in the port of Texas City, Texas, another French vessel, the SS Grandcamp was transporting 2,200 tons of ammonium nitrate when a fire started in the ship’s cargo hold. That fire started a chain reaction of explosions that killed nearly 600 people.
Episode 39 - Vlad the Impaler, 15th Century
Bram Stoker, used this actual prince as the inspiration for his famous vampire character, Count Dracula. Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracula was the real life ruler of Wallachia in the 15th century. But what do we really know about this relative of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess of Hungary? In the war between the Hungarians and the Ottomans he switched sides several times depending on his immediate needs. During his military campaigns and repression of internal revolts he gained a reputation for horrendous cruelties including the mass impalement of his enemies and the torture of many innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Episode 40 - The Protests at Tiananmen Square
Following the death of Mao Zedong, China liberalized its market policies. Under the guidance of new leader Deng Xaioping, China’s economy expanded rapidly, but growth was uneven. While a lucky few grew rich, most Chinese suffered the effects of inflation, limited job opportunities, nepotism and large scale corruption. All while the Communist Party stifled individual freedoms. As concerns in China were rising, people in other communist regimes were challenging their governments. Following the death of a popular reformer, hundreds of thousands of young Chinese gathered in Tiananmen Square in the heart of China’s capital, Beijing. After more than a month of protests, the government responded—with a very heavy hand..