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The safety of operating staff is a prime concern in nuclear plants.
Radiation exposure is minimised by the use of remote handling equipment for many operations in the core of the reactor.
In the 1950s attention turned to harnessing the power of the atom in a controlled way, as demonstrated at Chicago in 1942 and subsequently for military research, and applying the steady heat yield to generate electricity.
This naturally gave rise to concerns about accidents and their possible effects.
Every country which operates nuclear power plants has a nuclear safety inspectorate and all of these work closely with the IAEA.
A particular nuclear scenario was loss of cooling which resulted in melting of the nuclear reactor core, and this motivated studies on both the physical and chemical possibilities as well as the biological effects of any dispersed radioactivity.
Those responsible for nuclear power technology in the West devoted extraordinary effort to ensuring that a meltdown of the reactor core would not take place, since it was assumed that a meltdown of the core would create a major public hazard, and if uncontained, a tragic accident with likely multiple fatalities.
Most of the serious radiological injuries and deaths that occur each year (2-4 deaths and many more exposures above regulatory limits) are the result of large uncontrolled radiation sources, such as abandoned medical or industrial equipment.
(There have also been a number of accidents in experimental reactors and in one military plutonium-producing pile – at Windscale, UK, in 1957, but none of these resulted in loss of life outside the actual plant, or long-term environmental contamination.) See also Table 2 in Appendix.
No industry is immune from accidents, but all industries learn from them.