Time to Think the Unthinkable

What if Oldbury nuclear reactor had an accident like Chernobyl?

Click Here to see the Map

Most people think that they live far enough from a nuclear reactor not to have to worry. But as we approach the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl, a newly-generated map, that re-plots the radiation hotspots resulting from Chernobyl as if the explosion had occurred at Oldbury nuclear reactor, shows that such an accident could require long-term evacuation of parts of London and a swathe of the home counties as well as Bristol and the surrounding area.

So how likely is a Chernobyl-style accident at Oldbury, and what controls the pattern of radioactive pollution that would result?

Once radioactive isotopes were released from Chernobyl it was a combination of the wind and rainfall that determined where they fell to earth. It is striking that in the case of Chernobyl, the areas requiring mandatory long-term evacuation are not only concentrated close to the reactor, but also include equally radioactive hotspots one hundred miles and more from the nuclear reactor due to rainfall down-wind after the explosion. Of course, if an accident were to occur at Oldbury, the weather pattern and pattern of radioactive fallout would not exactly mimic that of Chernobyl, but plotting the Chernobyl contamination pattern centred on Oldbury shows how far-reaching the effects could be.

For an accident as catastrophic as Chernobyl to occur at one of the UK's reactors the reactor would have to run out of control. At Chernobyl, due to its particular design and due to misguided experimentation with the reactor just prior to the moment of disaster, the reactor core overheated so fast that the rods to control the core could not be re-inserted fast enough and an explosion resulted.

British nuclear operators claim better design and less stupidity. But is this claim credible? In the case of Oldbury reactor 1 the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate insisted that it must be shut down for safety reasons between 2004 and 2005. Their worries centred on the discovery of severe corrosion in the graphite reactor core that has become crumbly and weak after decades of erosion by radiation. They feared that cracks could develop and lead to rapid overheating and release of radioactivity. A further fear is that cracks could allow slight movement in the bricks, which could in turn make it impossible to re-insert the control rods, which, as at Chernobyl, would leave the reactor core in a runaway nuclear reaction.

Oldbury reactor 1 is now operating once more under condition that further safety evidence be presented to the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate to justify continued operation beyond one year. Reactor 2 has an even more eroded core and is presently shut down until the operator can convince the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate that it is not unsafe.

Quite apart from accidental disaster, in light of 9/11 we also need to be aware that nuclear reactors are potential terrorist targets and that they are not designed to withstand impacts from passenger jets like those that demolished the Twin Towers.

Stop Hinkley and Shut Oldbury Campaign coordinator, Jim Duffy said, "We are currently waiting for the Government's decision on whether to build a new generation of nuclear power stations following its current energy review. It is time to take a closer look at why Chernobyl should teach us not to go any further down the path of nuclear energy, even if that means looking at some unthinkably horrible scenarios."

Click Here to see the Map


Sources and relevant background information:

1. Chernobyl exploded on 26th April 1986

2. Mapping is based on the radiation hotspots map for Chernobyl produced for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Handbook of International Economic Statistics 1996. A high-definition version of the map can be viewed at:

Interpretation of the zones on the maps follows the explanation used by the UNDP-Partnered site:

The map image should be credited to 'Keep Wales Nuclear Free' campaign, and may be freely reproduced.

3. Information about Oldbury is derived from correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information act, as analysed by nuclear engineer John Large, summarised at:

4. Over 350,000 people were evacuated or resettled in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine as a result of the Chernobyl explosion. This and other statistics are available at the

5. Figures for total deaths and illnesses attributable to Chernobyl are strongly contested, partly due to government secrecy in the countries concerned and the resulting lack of information. 200,000 workers were exposed to radiation during the emergency and recovery operation during the first year after the disaster. Monitoring data on this now-dispersed group's wellbeing is inadequate. Low-end estimates are that 2000 of these workers are expected to die of radiation-related illnesses and that deaths amongst the exposed population will amount to a further 2000. These statistics are from a report by the Chernobyl Forum led by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, summarised at:

However, other observers, such as Greenpeace, reject these estimates and estimate that 90,000 will die of cancer as a result of Chernobyl. The Greenpeace Report can be accessed at:

Other reports state that 25,000 of the emergency clean-up workers have already died. e.g. see:

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has said: "At least three million children in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation require physical treatment (due to the Chernobyl accident). Not until 2016, at the earliest, will we know the full number of those likely to develop serious medical conditions."


RELEASE DATE: 22nd April 2006


Jim Duffy: 01984 632109 or 07968 974805

Ian Taylor: 01654 781315 or 07783 679203 or by email (click here).


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The Chernobyl accident contaminated large parts of the Soviet Union and Europe. Radioactivity was ultimately detected everywhere in the northern hemisphere. Doses to the emergency workers from external gamma-rays and internal fission-product radionuclides were significantly high, many died at the time. 20 years later, many liquidators still die and all are ill. The radionuclide contamination of the environment was significant and long-lasting. This resulted in chronic internal low dose exposure to millions of people, to animals and plants. Foodstuffs became contaminated with Caesium-137, Strontium-90 and uranium fuel particles containing a range of novel radioactive elements.

Click here for details of the new publication by the European Committee on Radiation Risk which presents the true consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Eminent scientists examine and review the data and show that, rather than fading away, the effects are only beginning to show themselves. The phenomenon of 'genomic instability', discovered in the laboratory in the UK in the 1990s, is seen now in its terrible effects on the animals, plants and human victims of the Chernobyl exposures. It is seen at doses that would have been, and still are, dismissed as vanishingly small by the current radiation protection laws.