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Windscale 1957: Anatomy of a Nuclear Accident Paperback – 15 Dec 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Schol, Print UK; 3 edition (15 Dec. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230573177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230573178
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 342,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'Nobody is better placed than the incomparable Lorna Arnold to relive and to tell this timely story. She does it magnificently.' – Peter Hennessey, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, University of London, UK
'[Lorna Arnold] embodies all that is best in official history … It is her fairness and humanity that have enabled her to reveal so much.' – Brian Cathcart, Professor of Journalism, Kingston University, London, UK

'...exemplary.' - The Guardian

'...fascinating and rather disconcerting reading.' - Safe Energy

'...Arnold asks whether any of this matters any more. It does, and her excellent book shows why.' - The Independent

'...pithy, authoritative and incisive account'. - Nature

' excellent book...written in a clear and expert style.' - Nuclear Engineer

'Not only are the technical details of the accident fully described, but the all important political context is sharply observed...This is how technical history should be researched and written and I cannot recommend this book too highly.' - Richard Wakeford, Journal of Radiological Protection

Book Description

This book describes the fire at Windscale in 1957 and what followed, and considers its causes, effects and political importance.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Stewart Taylor on 11 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book. The author tells the story of this remarkable event in a most gripping way,and there is lots of technical detail for those who want it.

Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By George on 26 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book covers a nuclear accident that happened in England in October 1957, at the time I was 10 years old and clearly remember the TV news covering the accident which to say the least was reported as not serious which was far from the truth.
In 1957 it was the worlds worst nuclear accident and the results could have been far worse had it not been for the dedication and risk taking of the staff at the Windscale reactor, the very staff who were blamed for the accident which also was untrue.
Lorna Arnold (the author) was employed at Widnscale at the time and has written an excellent account of the events, I would highly recommend this book and her others covering Britain's development of nuclear weapons.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ruth Hirai on 29 May 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Lest we forget.........
The first civil nuclear accident happened here in the UK.
Lorna Arnold gives all the details but in a comprehensible and readable way for lay readers..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
This is an important book to read on a major nuclear reactor accident. 13 Dec. 2014
By David Ecale - Published on
Format: Paperback
It follows the design and operation of the Windscale reactor complex and its two graphite pile reactors with a particular interest in pile number one which had a breakdown and developed a graphite fire in 1957. Before going through a detailed review, however, I do wish to point out that except for the 8 pages, or so, concerning the high drama of the accident itself, the book is pretty much as dry as dust. Ok, that said:

1) The reactors were built by the British Government to primarily produce plutonium-239 for military purposes in atomic bomb research, manufacture, and testing.
2) The reactors were quite primitive in design. Basically large blocks of almost pure graphite with a series of horizontal holes drilled through them.
3) The holes in the reactors were used to either insert moderating (slow down & absorb neutrons) materials or nuclear material for transmutation from one element into another (mostly uranium-238 into plutonium-239)
4) The nuclear material was enclosed in cylinders that were pushed into the reactor core from one side and discharged after time out of the other side.
5) The graphite had a habit of absorbing some of the nuclear energy and retaining it as a discontinuity in the crystalline lattice of the graphite.
6) The solution to the energy retention was to heat up the affected area in order to re-arrange and restore the crystalline lattice of the graphite through the process of annealing.
7) The ninth annealing process was the one that didn't work properly as an area of the pile overheated & a fire ensued.
8) Here is where the fatal design defect of the pile was revealed. The pile was air cooled. Pushing more air through the pile to cool it only enhanced the fire by fanning the flames (air being about 18% oxygen). And just like blowing on a fire to blow out the flames doesn't work for a large fire, it didn't here, either.
9) Lots of ugly stuff was blown out of the pile & up the chimney stacks into the atmosphere. By great good luck, some was filtered out, but a lot was not. The worst of these released in the short term was iodine-131 (which can cause thyroid cancer if ingested).
10) Milk consumption was banned (milk having large concentrations of iodine-131 in the affected area). The good news was that iodine-131 has a half life decay of about 8 days, so the milk ban was not a permanent affair.

The truly interesting point is that when pile number 2 was shut down & evaluated, it was discovered that the design would have caused a fire no matter what was done. Annealing only had the potential of delaying the inevitable disaster! The design itself was flawed. Neither pile was ever reactivated for use.

The second point is political. The US had reneged on the "gentleman's" agreement between Roosevelt & Churchill to share nuclear research results. This agreement was made during the dark days of WW2 when Britain was under bombing threat & it was considered safest to move the research and scientists overseas to Canada & the US. After the war, Roosevelt was dead & Churchill was out of office. The US decided to restrict its dissemination of information to the British. The British basically built Windscale to catch up and join the club of nuclear nations.

Windscale achieved two things for the British:

1) The production of enough material for the British to create and test their own nuclear bombs.
2) The accident woke up the US authorities to the fact that if they didn't act & assist the British quickly, more really bad things would happen as the British repeated the mistakes that the US had already made.

The British were brought into the fold, so to speak. And, Windscale proved to be the physical and political reason for these successes.

While you read this book have an internet connection available & do searches on: Windscale; Graphite Reactor Design; and Reactor Fire. Also, view the photos. There are quite a few available.

PS. The Russians picked up the telephone & called the British as the graphite fire was raging at the Chernobyl Nuclear station for ideas on how to stop the fire.

Disclaimer: This review is from the paperback version of the book as obtained through the inter-library loan program.
Excellent Book worth your time 6 Aug. 2013
By S. Reynaud - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had expected this to be a rather dry book, but Ms. Arnold does a wonderful job of covering this fascinating story of the world's first nuclear accident. I could not put it down.
Five Stars 21 July 2014
By Susan - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is part of my interest and research on nuclear disasters.
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