A is for Atom

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

A is for Atom was part of the BBC’s Pandora’s Box series about politics and science:

The film shows that from very early on — as early as 1964 — US government officials knew that there were serious potential dangers with the design of the type of reactor that was used to build the Fukushima Daiichi plant. But that their warnings were repeatedly ignored.

The film tells the story of the rise of nuclear power in America, Britain and the Soviet Union. It shows how the way the technologies were developed was shaped by the political and business forces of the time. And how that led directly to inherent dangers in the design of the containment of many of the early plants.

Those early plants in America were the Boiling Water Reactors. And that is the very model that was used to build the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Three of them were supplied directly by General Electric.

In 1966 the US government Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards tried to force the industry to redesign their containment structures to make them safer. But the chairman of the committee claims in the film that General Electric in effect refused.

And in 1971 the Atomic Energy Commission did a series of tests of Emergency Core Cooling systems. Accidents were simulated. In each case the emergency systems worked — but the water failed to fill the core. Often being forced out under pressure.

As one of the AEC scientists says in the film:

“We discovered that our theoretical calculations didn’t have a strong correlation with reality. But we just couldn’t admit to the public that all these safety systems we told you about might not do any good”

And again the warnings were ignored by senior members of the Agency and the industry.


  1. Carl says:

    As I was reading the excerpt my mental voice shifted to the Adam Curtis British accent in the second paragraph even before I consciously realized this was another Adam Curtis post. He definitely has a distinctive writing style.

  2. Bruce says:

    I like having nuke power safety run by paranoid martinets who retire feeling bad they weren’t more cautious, but isn’t the horrible awful unprecedented death toll from Fukushima still ZERO?

  3. Toddy Cat says:

    Yes, the death toll from Fukushima is still zero, but you’re not supposed to think about that. It’s raciss….or something.

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