On This Day - October 10th

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windscale

The Windscale fire of 10 October 1957 was the worst nuclear accident in Great Britain's history, ranked in severity at level 5 out of a possible 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The fire took place in Unit 1 of the two-pile Windscale facility on the northwest coast of England in Cumberland (now Sellafield, Cumbria). The two graphite-moderated reactors, referred to at the time as "piles", had been built as part of the British post-war atomic bomb project. Windscale Pile No. 1 was operational in October 1950 followed by Pile No. 2 in June 1951.

After the fire was detected, various attempts were made to put it out, using the air fans, carbon dioxide, water and eventually shutting off the air supply, which eventually did the trick.

The fire burned for three days and there was a release of radioactive contamination that spread across the UK and Europe. Of particular concern at the time was the radioactive isotope iodine-131, which may lead to cancer of the thyroid, and it has been estimated that the incident caused 240 additional cancer cases. No one was evacuated from the surrounding area, but there was a worry that milk might be dangerously contaminated. Milk from about 190 sq miles of nearby countryside was diluted and destroyed for about a month. A 2010 study of workers involved in the cleanup of the accident found no significant long term health effects from their involvement.

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