Nuclear power and the shape of things to come: from Windscale to three mile island to Chernobyl, nuclear incidents have caused devastation the world over. In this exclusive report FIRE correspondent Tony Prosser asks whether the fear reflects the risk by analysing the level of danger we currently face, including from suicide bombers.(Operational Assurance)


AS A HAZARD, RADIATION GENERATES A dread far beyond the hazards associated with chemicals, biological and conventional materials. Not withstanding the deliberate use of nuclear weapons during the Second World War, up to the year 2000, there have only been 27 fatal accidents with a total of 75 fatalities including the disaster at Chernobyl in April 1986, which was the most serious with 29 firefighters and plant workers dying of radiation poisoning.

Nuclear Catastrophies

For firefighters, both local authority and more especially, those employed at nuclear installations, the risk is very real. With the proposed relaxation of planning processes and an apparent sea change in government attitude to the increased use of nuclear power for the generation of 'clean' electricity, it is likely that soon there will be a large increase in the number of facilities in the UK and the raised potential for accidents during transportation and, less likely, during use.

In addition to the potential for accidents, recent events have shown just what effects can be achieved using a few grams of radioactive materials. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko has been described sensationally by some as a dawn of an era of nuclear terrorism, although the evidence shows the difficulties of using Polonium as an alternative to the use of readily available guns, mean that the widespread use is unlikely. What the Litvinienko affair does demonstrate is the complications that can arise from the spillage or deliberate release of radioactive materials in the community and has provided a unique opportunity to consider how the Fire and Rescue Service may need to respond to these incidents.

A recent incident in Edinburgh, caused by the discovery of a number of low strength sources left in a school, necessitated the mobilisation of a full response to the incident of all the emergency services and used the national arrangements for incidents involving radiation (the NAIR scheme). The incident was dealt with quickly and the materials handled safely but it does highlight the concern with how incidents are viewed. It also showed how the response to such events has been refined over the years and that sophisticated means of dealing with radiation have evolved. Given the high level of concern, these events are likely to involve the Fire and Rescue Service, at least in the initial response phases. …

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