1957 Windscale nuke disaster fallout far greater than previously thought

November 14th, 2007 - 1:50 am ICT by admin  
The Windscale site was home to Britain’s first two nuclear reactors, the Windscale Piles, which were constructed to produce plutonium and other materials for the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.

But the rush to build them at a time when little was known about nuclear reactors led to disaster.

On October 10, 1957, a failure to properly control the temperature of graphite control rods within the reactor sparked off a devastating fire, which caused radioactive contamination to spew into the atmosphere.

The fire was eventually put out with water - a risky act, which could have caused an explosion, but the radioactive cloud formed as a result of the fire was already spreading far and wide.

At the time of the accident, the levels and spread of the radioactive materials was estimated, and measures were put in place to limit radioactive contamination.

But a new study carried out by John Garland, formerly of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and Richard Wakeford, a visiting professor at the University of Manchester, has suggested that the contamination of the environment might have been much higher.

The team carried out a re-analysis of data taken from environmental monitoring of air, grass and vegetation and combined this with computer models that revealed how the radioactive cloud would have spread from the reactor with the meteorological conditions at that time.

They confirmed that radioactive iodine and caesium, polonium, and a very small amount of plutonium were indeed released, but at a higher level than previously thought.

“The reassessments showed that there was roughly twice the amount than was initially assessed,” the BBC quoted John Garland, as saying.

Garland said this would have also impacted the numbers of cancers that the accident would have caused.

He added that most of the radioactive materials released had now decayed and posed no ongoing risk, but small quantities of caesium and plutonium still remained. (ANI)

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