November 2006

[This article was originally published in New Scientist on 17 October 1957]

NO ONE will know precisely what happened at the Windscale works of the Atomic Energy Authority last Thursday afternoon until the AEA’s own inquiry is completed, but it is certain to be considerably more complicated than first reports and the AEA’s own spokesmen have been inclined to suggest.

One of the two seven-year-old reactors had been shut down, and whatever work was being carried out on it – apparently it was being used for experiments of some kind – started a fire in at least two fuel channels in the centre of the reactor which was fierce enough to carry vaporised fission products the whole distance up the 400-foot chimney and through the filters at its top. The fire started at 4.30 in the afternoon; it proved so difficult to control that the following day hoses began to play water down the fuel channels in a desperate attempt to bring the temperature under control. (more…)