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Difficult question

Letters

The item on Chernobyl (NCE 27 April) brings to mind something which occurred around half a century ago when I worked as a young site engineer on the construction of one of UK's nuclear power stations.

We had been rained off and were sitting musing in the site hut waiting for the weather to improve. Suddenly someone wondered what would happen if an aircraft crashed into one of the boiler houses.

To understand the signicance it has to be understood that the heat transfer from reactor to boilers was by carbon dioxide, at high pressure and temperature, through ducts of around 2m in diameter. Although the reactors were within massive concrete shield walls, the ducts emerged into lightly constructed boiler houses.

Having exhausted our fanciful ideas we telexed a physicist at head offifice. His reply was that if the ducts were fractured they must be sealed within around 40 minutes after which the whole of the radioactive fuel and graphite core would burn off to atmosphere.

We thought no more about it until a few weeks later when an extremely eminent individual arrived from head office.

He insisted on witnessing the destruction of any documentary evidence of our query and explained in no uncertain terms that the possibility had never been discussed or even thought about.

Dr Peter Jackson, pdm. jackson@btopenworld.com

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