Materials taken from Majia Nadesan 2013: Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk. Palgrave Pivot.
In 1954, The New York Times reported that in 1952 an “atomic plant” at Chalk River Ontario had “caused peril” resulting in the “worst nuclear reactor accident that has been disclosed.”[i] In July 1955, The Manchester Guardian observed that Dr. McCullough, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, warned publicly that reactors were far too dangerous to locate in populous areas. He was quoted in the article as stating:
If there is an accident . . . the reactor may be lost but the public will be protected. . . . Many of us feel that this record [of few accidents] is just due to plain good luck, and our luck may not hold. We should be prepared for an accident. The thing we should try to avoid is a really bad accident. The key to the whole business is that reactors manufacture extremely poisonous materials, rather worse by a million or billion times than anything else ever known. Though we have tried, we can find no valid comparison. It is a brand-new problem to us.[ii]
The retrospective nature of Dr. McCullough’s admissions is noted: “There is something anomalous, he conceded, in worrying so much about safety regulations after the programme has been under way for some time.”
McCullough’s greatest stated concern about reactor safety was continued heat creation, known as “delayed heat,” that occurs after a reactor has been shut off. The safety challenge was to develop a reactor that could automatically shut off and control delayed heat production.
McCullough warned that “we can’t depend entirely on gadgets” to resolve this significant safety problem. His warnings were prescient. In 1957, Windscale, a plutonium-producing, graphite reactor in Britain, caught fire and approximately 20,000 curies of radioactive iodine was released without containment.[iii]
The problem of reactor safety, and delayed heat specifically, would never be fully resolved, as the Fukushima crisis revealed. Fears about nuclear accidents and radiation releases were the flies in the nuclear energy ointment despite media reassurances and the establishment of regulatory agencies. These problems remain UNRESOLVED today.
[i] R. K. Plumb (1 December 1954) ‘Reactor Accident Caused Peril in 1952: Flooding of Atomic Plant With Deadly Radioactive Water in Canada is Disclosed Here,’ The New York Times, 35.
[ii] Cited in M. Freedman ‘Dangers of Nuclear Radiation: U.S. Plans for Public Protection’ (15 July 1955) The Manchester Guardian, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821-2003) and The Observer (1791-2003) page 9. Retrieved: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/docview/479866824/136B74FF0E260A4EEE8/3?accountid=4485, date accessed 7 July 2012.
[iii] A. M. Weinberg (1979) ‘Nuclear Energy: Salvaging the Atomic Age’, The Wilson Quarterly, 3.3, 88-93.