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FIFTY YEARS ago on 10 October 1957, Windscale nuclear plant in Cumbria, since renamed Sellafield, suffered a serious fire. This week, a BBC documentary showed how the 1950s Macmillan government was in a rush to build an 'independent' British hydrogen bomb and maintain prestige on the world stage. They used Windscale to develop the plutonium and tritium they needed for the bomb.
This very hurried process overlooked the fears of scientists and led to a dangerous overheating of the core's graphite rods. The core burst into flames. The government and its cover-up report scandalously tried to blame the staff at Windscale who had fought heroically to put out the fire.
50 years later, new scientific studies of the fire's radioactive debris and of weather patterns suggest that the plume of caesium, iodine and polonium that moved across the area may have triggered several dozens more cases of cancer than the 200 previously estimated.
New Labour is now going ahead with plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations that could be devastating to the environment.
No safe method of disposing of nuclear waste, that could last and contaminate for over 100,000 years, is known to science. And Windscale half a century ago is a reminder that nuclear accidents can happen with disastrous consequences.
In The Socialist 11 October 2007:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
What we think
War and terrorism
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis