A glimpse into nuclear disaster. Answered
A team of engineers has used an endoscope to carry out the first visual inspection of Windscale 1 nuclear reactor for more than 50 years. In October 1957, it was the scene of what was the world's worst nuclear accident when it caught fire and released radioactive material into the atmosphere.
Just over 50 years ago, British nuclear scientists, under political pressure from a succession of Prime Ministers, had been pushing the reactor to and beyond operating limits in an attempt to develop the UK's own independent H-bomb and achieve an "alliance of equals" with the US.
When the fire occurred, the scientists were faced with a choice: let it burn, and contaminate Europe, or dump water on it, and potentially die in a nuclear explosion. They chose the latter, risking their own lives to save people who didn't even know there was a problem.
That sounds heroic, but the official report into the incident blamed the scientists for the accident, rather than let the US find out about the H-bomb programme just in the days before signing a treaty to share their existing knowledge with the UK.
Windscale (now known as Sellafield - the name was changed after the accident) is now in the long process of closing down. Along with jobs, buildings that marked the dawn of the nuclear age are being slowly demolished and moved ... somewhere else. They don't know where, yet, but it will probably end up remaining on site in deep holes (down in the porous sandstone that carries the local water-table).
The original piles were shut down immediately after the accident, and the site's AGR reactor was closed down 27 years ago, but it is only recently that they figured out what to do with them, and they are now being decommissioned as a "UK's demonstration project (meaning; "we've never done this before, we'll work out the bugs in remote Cumbria before we try it on a reactor near a city").
As part of the decommissioning work, they now need to see what is left in the ashes of the world's second reactor disaster before working out what to do next.
I don't know about you, but I'm not convinced that a paper boilersuit would be enough protection. Maybe that's why the chap on the right looks like he's crossing himself...