Fletcher Prouty Commentary - May

This business of secrecy is like an illness. It affects you once, and then its easy for it to creep up on you again and again. I wonder how many times that the people that put this cover of secrecy over a project really stop and think whether or not something is really going to remain secret.

For example, The government of England was trying to keep its scientists and other people from talking about the Windscale incident. It happened as I recall back in the days when I was in the Pentagon. I heard about it right after it happened, so it wasn't all that secret.

A new Nuclear Development plant that they were designing in England and building went critical. They could not turn the thing off. It was as if you went to turn a light bulb off and instead of it turning off, the thing became ten times brighter, and forever!

This plant at Windscale, went critical. It was so serious, it was the worst nuclear incident before the one in Chernobyl, in the Soviet Union.

So they rounded up all the bulldozers, all the road graders, all the earth-moving equipment they could get. Effectively they began to build a hill, a mountain right over the top of Windscale to contain the damage that there was no other way to get to.

What had happened in the earlier days of nuclear development, the nuclear industry itself, and for many of it's manufacturers, was a major change in the way they made things. In making the rods that are used to moderate the activity in a nuclear plant, you had to have carbon and graphite.
Before the dawn of the nuclear age pure carbon met certain standards of purity, and that was good enough. But in the nuclear era, pure carbon had to be completely pure and all of what you might say was the rare earth content had to be extracted from the carbon.

Well, they hadn't built one of these nuclear things before and they didn't realize that, so the rods had not been purified the way it had to be. When they put the rods in, they not only increased the activity but as they went to take them out, the rare earth bits that were left in the rods excited the activity and it went critical.

Well the point is after all these years, the British government is still suing newspapers and other publications demanding that they not mention Windscale. Now what a ridiculous thing to think that there is any kind of secrecy or security that would be worth applying to a project 40 years after it happened, And my goodness millions of technicians know about it, they have all told each other. I heard it in a briefing in the Pentagon, within days of when it happened.

Secrecy is a tool that is applied when the government doesn't want you to know they are doing something that probably they shouldn't be doing anyway.

L. Fletcher Prouty

LINKS Other Nuclear Accident you may not have heard of... LET THE FACTS SPEAK

Windscale radiation 'doubly dangerous' 2007

Crisis looms on Windscale clean-up Dec 2001 Dr. John Large. "Yet the reactors at Windscale contain highly radioactive and unstable materials in conditions which could trigger another release of highly radioactive materials. He said that deadly substances in the core include uranium hydride, which ignites at room temperature, carbonaceous dust or `lampblack', which explodes, and plutonium isotopes with a half-life of 24,400 years, which stay active for 250,000 years. "There could also be pockets of hydrogen, which could cause an explosion if disturbed," said Large. The material sits in a giant concrete bioshield box up to three metres thick which contains the graphite core where uranium rods were converted in the nuclear reactor to irradiated to form weapons-grade plutonium.

Windscale Accident 1957 Windscale Accident 10 October 1957. John Ainslie. In 1945 Britain decided to build the bomb. The following year work began in Cumbria on the site of an ...

BBC report 2005

The Windscale reactor accident 50 years on

Lecturer comments on Windscale fire 50th anniversary