October 31, 2018 | Anne Roberts

Remembering An Accident: The Windscale Fire

On October 10, 1957 Great Britain experienced its’ worst nuclear accident, The Windscale Fire. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale it was ranked at a level 5 out of 7. The incident took place at the Windscale Nuclear Facility located in the county of Cumberland (now part of Cumbria).

So what happened?

On October 7, 1957 the Windscale Plant consisted of two gas cooled nuclear reactors. During a routing heating of the nuclear “pile” No. 1 reactor’s graphite control block a rapid release of energy triggered a disastrous fire. The rapid release of energy caused the adjacent uranium cartridges to rupture and catch fire unbeknownst to the operators. The fire burned up to three days until a foreman, arriving to work, noticed smoke coming from the chimney. After battling the fire for 16 hours it was finally put out with a relatively minor radiation spill. This incident was a near miss when compared to the disaster it could have been. Even though it was a minor spill there was still damage that had been done.

The fire left about 10 tons of radioactive fuel melted inside the reactors core. It also released a large amount of radioactive iodine-131 into the atmosphere. The isotope iodine-131 may increase the chances of someone developing thyroid cancer. There has been an estimate of 240 cancer cases that are linked directly to this incident. The increase in cancer cases might be due to the fact that no one was evacuated from the surrounding area, but there was some concern about the milk that was produced from the area. The government banned for several weeks the sale of milk produced in a 500 square km area around the reactor site. It took about a month to dilute and destroy the contaminated milk.

The Windscale reactor was sealed until the 1980s, when a cleanup crew began working on the contaminated site. A 2010 study of the workers directly involved in the cleanup found no significant long term health effects due to their interaction with the contaminated site.


To learn more about the Windscale Fire click here.

Major disasters like this are often wake-up calls for how important it is to ensure that they never happen again.

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis is taught globally to help industries avoid them. Our 5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training offers advanced tools and techniques to find and fix root causes re-actively and help identify precursors that could lead to major problems.

To learn more about our public courses and their locations click on the links below.
5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training
2-Day TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Essentials Training

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