Segments in this Video

Secret Nuclear Fuel Site (02:35)


A controversial nuclear facility lies on the northwest coast of England. Physics Professor Jim Al-Khalili will explore Sellafield with a camera crew in tow.

Entering the Confidential Nuclear Facility (03:34)

Al-Khalili underwent extensive security checks done in order to enter Sellafield. National security rules dictate what the cameras can and cannot show. Over a thousand different buildings exist on the site.

Otto Hahn and Uranium (02:10)

Sellafield began when Britain raced to build an atom bomb after nuclear weapons were released on Japan. A German chemist discovered the atom's power while studying uranium, the heaviest naturally occurring element. Al-Khalili recreates the scientist's experiment.

Uranium to Barium (02:23)

After an hour, the experiment is radioactively charged. Gamma ray spectroscopy shows the unique signature of uranium. Al-Khalili explains how the atom is split and why barium results.

Nuclear Arms Race (02:43)

Four weeks after Hahn split the uranium atom, Robert Oppenheimer drew a diagram of a new kind of weapon: the atomic bomb. Britain needed its own bomb to keep up with America and Russia.

Chain Reaction Experiment (02:18)

A nuclear reactor over 20 meters high and weighing over 2,000 tons resides in Windscale. Al-Khalili describes an experiment where uranium is turned into plutonium, and demonstrates the chain effect involved.

Windscale Reactor (03:17)

Historian Lorna Arnold notes that the deadlines given to the experimenters forced the development work to be cut short. In October 1950, the reactor was started and the chain reaction began, turning uranium into plutonium at a slow pace. The first British nuclear weapon was complete by 1952, and was detonated in Australia.

Calder Hall (02:33)

There was hope that the power of the atom would be harnessed into electricity. An experiment conducted at Sellafield in 1952 created the first nuclear power station in the world. In 1956, Britain became a nuclear powered nation.

Unexpected Consequences of Nuclear Power (03:32)

A year after the opening of Calder Hall, the core of the reactor caught fire, erupting into the Windscale Fire of 1957. The fire was extinguished after three days, but the danger was not over.

Basic Filter (02:00)

The Windscale Project had been designed seven years prior by physicist John Cockcroft. Cockcroft had a filter built at the top of the Windscale to prevent radioactivity from contaminating the air; it came into use during the fire.

Radioactive Leaks and Contamination (03:45)

The world's first nuclear accident demonstrated to the world that nuclear power could be lethal. Despite being invisible, nuclear power can be incredibly toxic. Al-Khalili describes types of radiation and effective blocking techniques.

Producing Electricity and Radioactive Material (03:30)

Sellafield built the Windscale Advanced Gas Reactor as other plants created nuclear facilities across the planet. People protested nuclear energy on the grounds of the danger of its waste.

Reprocessing Nuclear Power (03:23)

Plans were underway to change the way radioactive waste was dealt with. Sellafield created a Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant known as THORP, which cost two billion pounds and opened in 1994. It was designed to safely handle waste and extract uranium to be reused.

Disposing of Radioactive Waste (02:34)

Though 97 percent of the fuel is recycled at Sellafield, three percent remains as toxic waste. Vitrification renders the waste safe by encasing it in glass.

Storing Deadly Nuclear Waste (03:13)

Vitrified waste containers are kept cool. The radiation produces heat as it remains in storage. Sellafield contains several thousand tons of the toxic waste.

Legacy Ponds (03:04)

An experimental reactor built at Sellafield in the 60s was shut down in 1981, then cut up into fragments and placed in steel reinforced concrete boxes which remain in storage in an air-conditioned warehouse. The contaminated water is seeping through the walls.

British Nuclear Age (03:42)

Sellafield has let radioactive waste into the air and sea, pushing the public to demand for cleanup. The next generation of nuclear power stations in Britain is proposed to be built not far from Sellafield.

Credits: Secrets of the Nuclear Age (00:36)

Credits: Secrets of the Nuclear Age

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Secrets of the Nuclear Age

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Sellafield is the keystone of the UK’s nuclear industry. Its story is the story of the nuclear age. Now, for the first time, Sellafield is opening its doors to television cameras. From the world’s first commercial nuclear reactor, to the first reprocessing facility ever to recycle used fission material, this is a revelatory tour around one of the country’s most controversial sites. Discover secrets that have been hidden for 60 years, in this remarkable account of humanity’s attempts—past, present and future—to harness the almost limitless power of the atom. A BBC Production.

Length: 52 minutes

Item#: BVL115676

ISBN: 978-1-68272-996-0

Copyright date: ©2015

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