September 2007

from the low level radiation campaign site

Government records altered in cover-up

Winds over Windscale 1957:
Changing the name to Sellafield was not the only rewrite

The 1957 reactor fire at Windscale was possibly the most serious nuclear accident to occur outside the Soviet Union. Large amounts of assorted radio-isotopes were released. Where did they go, and who was affected? The fire began at midnight on 9th October and was finally brought under control on the 12th. Radioactivity in the plume from the later part of the event was tracked south east across England and into Europe. But what happened in the early part? Accounts of the wind direction differ. Reports at the time said that it was blowing out to sea (1). This is supported by a meteorological analysis (2) showing a cold front lying NE to SW across the Irish Sea from Galloway to the Isle of Man and beyond to Dublin. Accompanied by heavy rain it was moving eastwards; light winds were blowing towards it.

But in 1974 Roger Clarke (now the Director of NRPB) disagreed. He says (3) that winds were from the NW throughout, blowing the radiation inland. Thus there could be no significant dose to Ireland or the Isle of Man.

LLRC went to the Meteorological Office Archives in Bracknell to find out the truth. We found that the original reports of wind speed and direction had been tampered with.
Record sheets for 1957 had been removed from the Met. Office’s Windscale station volume and replaced with new sheets of a slightly different colour from the sheets for previous and subsequent years. The pages for 1957 read: NO RECORD — MAST DISMANTLED The mast “reappeared” in November. When we pointed this out to the archivist he had a good laugh.

A good cover-up is hard to do
It had not been possible to cook the books entirely – the archivist showed us the Air Ministry synoptic charts. These show the entire weather picture for the British Isles. Every three hours they used to draw up a new chart (each one is as big as a dining table) based on reports for wind speed, direction, and precipitation from all the dozens of weather stations around the country. A researcher can easily trace the movement of weather events, like the Windscale Front, as they change and move. Rewriting history as recorded by the charts would be a big job – a matter of inventing new charts covering several days and making sure that at the start and end of the invention features like fronts, and areas of high and low pressure were in the right place to merge with reality.


Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the Windscale fire. But not many want to be reminded of Windscale as a new programme on Nuclear Energy is being sold by Government and the Nuclear industry. Over the next few weeks I will write about what I hear on the subject. If you hear of something, let me know, info at

an interesting read. in PDF format. The Windscale reactor accident—50 years on