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50 years after nuclear fire at weapons factory, researchers reveal poisonous polonium-210 plume drifted over Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia

Posted by gmarkets on 10 October, 2007

According to Rob Edwards, in a report in The Economist, 6/10/2007, p. 11 at the time it was the world’s worst nuclear accident. Now, 50 years after the fire at Windscale in Cumbria, UK, on 10 and 11 October 1957, it had emerged a resulting radioactive cloud spread contamination over large parts of Europe, much further than previously admitted. Because Windscale was a military plant, much about the accident was kept secret.

Radioactive milk poured away: The fire raged in the bomb-making reactor for 17 hours, dumping contamination over a large swathe of England. Across the north-west of the country radioactive milk was poured away for several weeks. Researchers in the UK and Norway hade now shown that radioactivity was blown east over Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and north over Scandinavia.

Plume not made public for 50 years:

• “The plume extended further east than accepted in previous assessments,” concluded a study funded by the British nuclear industry (Atmospheric Environment, DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv. 2006.12.049).

• Monitoring measurements from the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment show that fallout “extended farther north over Norway than originally considered” (Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, DOI: 10.1016/j .jenvrad.2007.06.011).

Lies and secrets: The full truth about the large amounts of polonium-210 released didn’t emerge until 1983, after it was highlighted in an article in New Scientist (vol 97, p 873). The failure to account for the polonium-210 was “perplexing”, says Richard Wakeford, a former British Nuclear Fuels scientist now at the University of Manchester. The isotope is blamed for 70 of the 100 fatal cancers that the accident is officially reckoned to have caused. The Windscale operation up to 1957 was “an accident waiting to happen,” the new report says. “It could have been a lot worse,” Wakeford says (Journal of Radiological Protection, D01:10.1088/0952-4746/27/3/E02).

The Economist, 6/10/2007, p. 11

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