The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

3.1 Atomic men!

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Suddenly, science was sexy.
More VIPs?
No. Boffins.
It was just part of this feeling that science has done great things, can do great things, and will do great things, and we were just part of it.
If one of us went to a conference, there might be newspaper headlines - atom man will be there. It was very, very heady.
More than 5,000 atom men and women landed in a small part of the northwest of England. The locals came up with their own names for the invaders.
Probably the favourite was the atomics, to describe to new people in the village.
I can remember all laughing one morning because of the headline. Britain's Atom Age Heroes. And then you did feel that we were in the vanguard of being something really new.
Men dressed like visitors from Mars add a slightly sinister touch to the hospital atmosphere of the laboratory.
The local town of Seascale, just a few hundred yards from the site, was becoming Britain's first atomic town.
Seascale was an absolutely marvellous place to grow up. It really was. There were golf classes, a riding school, ballroom dancing classes, ballet classes, tea dances, even, in the Windscale Club.
All the people were young and ambitious, and there was chemists, there was teachers, there was physicists. There was all kinds of people. People from all over the world. We all got on wonderfully well, and it really was-- it was quite exciting.
Seascale was called the brainiest town in Britain.
End transcript
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In the early 1950s, the nuclear industry was very young – the video shows the initial excitement surrounding it; ‘we were in the vanguard of something really new’. People began to talk of an ‘atomic age’.

Windscale was perceived as an exciting and dynamic place. It was located on the Sellafield site in Cumbria (right next to Calder Hall that you looked at last week) and was home to the Windscale Piles which were part of the weapons industry, producing plutonium for nuclear bombs.

In 1957, Windscale experienced a reactor accident that profoundly affected public confidence in the nuclear industry. Other accidents you might have heard of, that involved nuclear power plants (i.e. those designed to generate electricity), include the accident at Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania USA, in 1979 and the accident at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986. The most recent accident occurred in Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

In the next sections, you will examine these accidents and what can go wrong in a nuclear power station.


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