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A nuclear accident
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-10-11 09:30:02
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On the 10th of October, 1957 at Windscale, Cumberland Britain we have the first nuclear accident in history and the worst reactor accident until …Three Mile Island twenty two years after. Part of the radioactive core at pile One, at Windscale Nuclear Plant in West Cumbria used to make weapons-grade plutonium was on fire and as there had never been a similar experience it was mainly guessing as to how to distinguish the fire.

And somehow the combination of water pumped in to the reactor and turning off the air supply to the reactor worked and the lack of oxygen and gallons of water did the trick and the fire was eventually put out. The fire caused the release of substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding are starting something the people in the wider area still deal with.

The fire itself released an estimated 700 terabecquerels (20,000 curies) of radioactive material into the nearby countryside, although recent reworking of contamination data has shown national and international contamination to have been much higher than previously estimated. For comparison, the 1986 Chernobyl explosion released approximately 1.9 exabequerels of radionuclides. The presence of the chimney scrubbers (although only somewhat effective) was credited with maintaining partial containment and thus minimizing the radioactive content of the smoke that poured from the chimney during the fire. Of particular concern at the time was the radioactive isotope iodine-131, which has a half-life of only 8 days but is taken up by the human body and stored in the thyroid.

As a result, consumption of iodine-131 often leads to cancer of the thyroid. It had previously been estimated that the incident caused 200 additional cancer cases, although this figure has recently been revised upwards to 240. No one was evacuated from the surrounding area, but there was concern that milk might be dangerously contaminated. Milk from about 500 km² of nearby countryside was destroyed (diluted a thousandfold and dumped in the Irish Sea) for about a month.

It has been suggested that the official meteorological records may have been altered in an attempt to cover up the possibility that, throughout the radiation leak, the wind was blowing out to sea, significantly increasing the contamination dose to Ireland and the Isle of Man. An Air Ministry synoptic chart for 11 October reproduced at the same source, however, suggests that Windscale was under the influence of an airmass and associated cold front which was tracking eastwards across the Irish Sea and over mainland UK.

What did we learned from the Windscale and later from the Three Mile Island accidents? That Chernobyl was to follow! That’s what we learned. That we know nothing about nuclear power, that we don’t know how to deal with nuclear power and worst of all we don’t know how to defend ourselves in front of a nuclear accident. Ironically we still don’t know even what happens after the accident because even the numbers of the victims from the Windscale accident are estimated and we have no idea how many others died from something the radioactivity started. Worst of all we have absolutely no idea how many will die in the future because of the Windscale accident. You see they might change the names but radio materials are there on the ground and they will be there according to the scientists until 2957!

It’s not only that we don’t really know what nuclear power can do what is dramatic is what we know. We know that the nuclear waste, yes this waste we have plant all around Africa and lately in our back gardens; that waste we know that has killed, it does kill and it will continue killing for centuries! Oddly what most of the environmentalists say is that we are not against nuclear power we are against the use of nuclear power as it is, as it is handled and it is stored and wasted!

The Windscale accident should have been a blueprint of our lack of knowledge but it has become the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and some others we know or we don’t know! Most of the accidents had human error behind them and after years without constructing any new nuclear plan we have Finland building a new one, a third generation nuclear plan according the designers with special care on security issues. Still rumours about cheap materials – the human error – are shadowing the construction from its beginning. Fifty two years after the world’s first nuclear accident!


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