The Windscale Fire (01:56)
The fire at the Windscale Nuclear Reactor in 1957 was the first nuclear fallout disaster. Radioactive material was spread for miles by the fire and the full extent of the damage was not revealed until years later.
Windscale Design (04:04)
Windscale was built in the late 1940s to make plutonium for Great Britain's first nuclear weapon. The reactor was cooled with air, instead of water like most plants. The plant was constructed rapidly and problems with overheating began after just two years of operation.
Windscale Hotspots (04:35)
By 1957, dangerous pockets of stored energy would frequently build up in the reactor and it became harder to release them. Leading up to the fire, the temperature in the reactor had been erratic and the workers struggled to manage it. Most channels had cooled down, but one remained high.
Windscale Emergency (02:13)
The workers suspected a cartridge had burst in the reactor, but the temperature was too hot to perform a scan. High radiation levels were being detected on and around the site because of the increased use of air in attempts to cool it. Scientists went in to inspect it by sight.
Windscale Fire Break (04:00)
Higher level management was called in after parts of the reactor were shut off. No one knew how to handle the situation since a nuclear reactor had never caught fire before. It was decided CO2 would be used as a possible coolant.
Windscale Cooling Attempt (06:36)
Workers struggled to clear the fuel channels around the fire. A tanker arrived with 25 tons of liquid CO2, which was rigged to be shot into the reactor as a gas. The CO2 failed and water was used instead, despite fears of a hydrogen explosion.
Windscale Fallout (04:46)
The cooling fans were shut off so the water could act as a coolant in the reactor. It stopped the fire, but contaminated water was released when the fire hoses were disconnected. The public was never notified of the danger, but health risks began to be seen days after the fire.
Credits: Disaster: Series 3: Atomic Inferno - The Windscale Fire (00:37)
Credits: Disaster: Series 3: Atomic Inferno - The Windscale Fire
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