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How Nuclear Accidents Affected Markets 30 Days Later

Quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Futaba, Fukushima
Jiji Press | AFP | Getty Images
Quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Futaba, Fukushima

Japan’s nuclear crisis will remain a major safety concern for the Japanese and the rest of the world, including investors concerned about its effect on the markets.

A CNBC analysis of how markets reacted to previous nuclear accidents may help explain and predict the impact of the emergency in Japan.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there have been 22 serious nuclear plant incidents—seven deemed Level 5 or higher on the international nuclear event scale—since the first accident in 1952.

The worst, Level 7, was the April 25, 1986 meltdown at the reactor in Chernobyl. Others include:

  • December 12, 1952, Chalk River, Canada: LEVEL 5
  • September 29, 1957, Kyshtym, Soviet Union: LEVEL 6
  • October 7, 1957, Windscale Pile, Great Britian: LEVEL 5
  • March 28, 1979, Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania: LEVEL 7
  • September 11, 1987, Goiânia, Brazil, LEVEL 5
  • March 11, 2011, Fukushima Daiichi, Japan, LEVEL 5

Here's a look at how markets fared after the most serious nuclear accidents in history, dating back nearly 60 years. We charted the Dow and S&P 30 days after each event. (Note: if the date 30 days later fell on a weekend, our query pulled data from the prior trading day.)

DOW

DATE
CLOSE
% CHG 30 DAYS LATER
HIGH W/IN 30 DAY RANGE
LOW W/IN 30 DAY RANGE
12/12/1952 285.2 0.59 293.79 285.2
9/27/1957 456.9 -4.98 465.82 419.79
10/7/1957 452.4 -3.86 452.42 419.79
3/28/1979 866.3 -3.19 878.72 833.42
4/25/1986 1835.6 2.74 1885.9 833.42
9/11/1987 2608.7 -25.22 2640.99 1738.18

S&P

DATE
CLOSE
% CHG 30 DAYS LATER
HIGH W/IN 30 DAY RANGE
LOW W/IN 30 DAY RANGE
12/12/1952 26.04 0.12 26.66 25.86
9/27/1957 42.55 -5.55 43.14 38.98
10/7/1957 42.22 -5.16 42.22 38.98
3/28/1979 102.12 -2.60 103.34 99.02
4/25/1986 242.29 1.40 247.98 232.76
9/11/1987 321.98 -22.91 328.08 306.33

The conclusion drawn from this analysis: None of these events had a significant impact on the overall market. The most movement occurred in 1987, but that was due to the market crash, known as Black Monday, on October 19, not the nuclear incident in Brazil.

  • Watch Video Explaining How Markets Reacted to Worst Nuclear Accidents

Excluding that 1987 event, the average Dow movement 30 days after a major nuclear accident was –1.7 percent. So history tell us that with the nuclear incidents we have experienced so far, the market tends to fall in the next 30 days.

This time, however—two weeks into the crisis in Japan—the Dow is up 0.8 percent.

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