Health and Safety



‘When the scientists of America’, wrote one of them,1 ‘became reasonably certain that they could produce a nuclear chain reacting pile, they were brought face to face with the hazards of such an undertaking.... Because of the dangers, some of the scientists doubted whether the programme could or should be prosecuted.’ In Britain practically no one seems to have doubted whether the British post-war project should be undertaken, despite General Groves’s comments (already quoted) to Lord Portal that ‘the best advice he could give about building a pile was not to build it’, and that he ‘would not be surprised to be called to the telephone any morning to hear the news that one of the [ Hanford] piles had “gone up”.’2 The British project was considered by the few politicians and civil servants who knew about it to be of absolutely overriding importance; only a few had any idea of the new kind of hazard, while the American enterprise had demonstrated that apparently the dangers were manageable. Thus health and safety considerations were not a decisive factor in the prime decision to have an atomic energy project, though they loomed large in subsequent important decisions on siting the piles and the choice of systems, and in carrying out the programme.


Medical Research Council Atomic Energy Tolerance Dose Radioactive Substance Radiological Protection 
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  1. 1.
    Dr Robert Stone, ‘Health Protection Aspects of the Plutonium Project’, quoted in Ministry of Supply Nursing Service Bulletin, July–Aug 1947.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Report of May 1946 visit.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    An interesting paper (1954) by F. R. Farmer examines the atomic energy safety record and compares the figures and costs with those for road accidents, industrial accidents, etc. Much work on radiation hazards in perspective has since been done in the United States and Britain and by the ICRP Secretariat. For a recent example, see article in New Scientist, 28 May 1970.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    HI 17, published in the British Journal of Radiology.Google Scholar
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    W. V. Mayneord, Radiation and Health (Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, 1964).Google Scholar
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    Richard G. Hewlett and Francis Duncan, History of the USAEC, vol. II: Atomic Shield, 1947–1952 (Pennsylvania State UP, 1969) pp. 112–14.Google Scholar
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    Paper by P. J. Lindop and J. Rotblat, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Sep 1971.Google Scholar
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    A. Haddow (ed.), Biological Hazards of Atomic Energy (Clarendon Press, 1952); see footnotes, pp. 114–15).Google Scholar
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    Review by F. R. Farmer, Nature, 18 Apr 1970.Google Scholar
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    See ICRP 1958 Report andRecommendations (Pergamon Press, 1959).Google Scholar
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    Article by Walter H. Jordan, Physics Today, May 1970, p. 37.Google Scholar
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    e.g. Lord Ritchie-Calder, HOL Deb.,13 Nov 1969.Google Scholar

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© United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority 1974

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