He’s been the glowing elephant in the room since I started this blog. I’ve been avoiding him like the plague, but I’ve been getting more and more questions and I guess there are some times when you just have to grasp JASON the baby nuclear reactor by the well-gloved hand and deal with him head-on (dressed like Homer Simpson in the opening credits, natch…)

The reason why I have avoided talking about JASON is because I’ve never got a truly straight story out of anyone. For a long while he was part-myth, though I suppose the model in the Discover Greenwich exhibition has at least formally accepted he was around (sorry about the terrible picture). The weird thing is that I had heard from someone who worked with it directly (and who had no reason to lie) that it was just a model – that there was never any radioactivity in it, they just told the trainees there was to make them deal with it seriously.

Of course that leads to all manner of conspiracy theories in itself – was  he himself deluded? I’m guessing the answer is much more straight forward – it was damage limitation. That JASON was even there, so close to the metropolis – was going to be extremely controversial, and it was easier to tell people it was a model than admit the truth.

Certainly there’s no secret that JASON existed any more. For those who don’t know, he was a low-level (or, as I was told, a ‘no-level’) nuclear reactor used to train people, both military and civilian, in technology to do with submarine propulsion. In answer to Dominic’s question, the location was the ‘reactor hall’ in King William building and from a map in the article mentioned below, it loappears to have been the ground floor corner nearest the street on the east side – i.e. the other end from the Painted Hall. He came from the Hawker Siddeley Power Corporation in 1962.

When the Naval College was decommissioned and to be handed over to civilian use, obviously JASON had to go. It took three years – between 1996 and 1999 – to get rid of him completely and it was no easy job. There’s a brilliant article about it here, (thanks Peter) with a suitably ‘glowing’ pod being brought out of the 17th Century King William Building (shame it’s a bit pixelated.) Don’t miss the small picture at the end, of the article’s authors standing in an ‘ancient chimney-shaped structure found under the reactor.)

The Wikipedia article says 270 tonnes of radioactive waste were removed; the Ingenia article says 160 (I find myself more willing to believe the second figure) but that, to ignorant Phantom eyes, even that looks like rather a lot.

The decommission was complete and approved by 1999 and the room has apparently been turned into a lecture theatre (I don’t know if that’s true – I’ve never been inside the King William building :-(   )

So - what about that pesky ‘Nuclear-Free Zone’ irony? Well, according to the little plaque in the Discover Greenwich Centre, the Old Royal Naval College is carefully left out of the boundaries, which beg the question of what the point of having Nuclear-Free Zones at all is, if you’re just going to miss out the awkward bits…

There is one more thing involving JASON to talk about, but that strays into another Phantom scaredy-zone. I’ll muster up some courage and talk about that another day as now Proper Work awaits…

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13 Comments to “JASON”

  1. Nick Martin says:

    I suspect the 270 tons included the lead shielding ! I doubt that JASON ever worked like a real reactor, because a nuclear reactor isn’t the sort of thing thay can be easily scaled down, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it contained some radiactivity and lead shielding, to help people experience the handling both materials, if they came across the real thing.

  2. Peter says:

    I think you will find the insignia article agrees with wikipedia, as it states that 110 tonnes of free release waste plus 160 tons of low level radioactive waste. I find it funny that the output of the reactor was a meagre 10kW, just about enough for 3 kettles or a couple of cookers, well its good to know where you can get a good cup of tea when the power is out anyway.

  3. will says:

    The ingenia article says 110 tonnes of free release waste and 160 of low level waste (hence wiki’s 270?). Most of it seems to have been concrete, piping etc. There was also ‘a very small amount’ of intermediate waste. All of which suggests there was definitely something radioactive down there. Why go to so much trouble when removing it otherwise?

  4. Mary says:

    I was part of a party from the Greater London Industrial Archaeology society which visited Jason. I have a very very badly scanned account of the visit, and a handout, which gives a lot of detail. If you like I will try to sort it out – it is not on the GLIAS database.
    Quite honestly it was a bit boring to look at.

  5. Mary says:

    Phantom – I don’t want to tread on your toes – but didn’t think you would want the whole GLIAS visit account cluttering up your space – so – I have put it here http://greenwichindustrialhistory.blogspot.com/2010/10/jason.html
    in case anyone is interested.

    The story I was told most recently is that actually the training it was needed for took place in Southampton but that the navy reckoned that while Jason was there they couldn’t be chucked out of Greenwich.

  6. Wow – is that true? Tee hee – makes sense. Fab – thanks for the link Mary

  7. Dave says:

    Ok, hands up all those who understood all that on Mary’s link.

  8. To be honest I didn’t get the technical stuff, but the bits about what it looked like and the day to day running were very interesting. Did you take any pictures, Mary?

  9. Mary says:

    I don’t think we were allowed to. I will ask the author of the article (don’t think for one moment that I wrote it – the author had a PhD in nuclear physics). I will ring him later and ask him to answer any questions if you like.

  10. Pedro says:

    Excellent. Thanks for this. Now I know that all those stories I liked scaring visitors with were, very vaguely, true. A nuclear reactor is a nuclear reactor, even if it was only good enough to warm up the odd cup of tea or Horlicks.

  11. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Griffiths, marcelo affonso. marcelo affonso said: RT @beng: "The existence of a nuclear reactor so close to central London was largely unknown to the general public" http://bit.ly/cOnIRY [...]

  12. Peter says:

    sticks hand up for Dave, yes I understood that, a very good precis of the operation of a reactor, I would think that in the proximity of a reactor (even a small one like Jason) camera film would possibly be affected by any stray radiation ( they used to use camera film as a radiation detector/ monitor) so photos are unlikely.
    many thanks for the link and the write up.

  13. Nick Martin says:

    In reply to Peter (Oct 19) – I don’t think your theory re the camera film would be correct. I visit a couple of nuclear power stations in connection with my job, and in one of the stations I am working literally next door to a fully functioning full-size reactor, and the background levels are actually lower than you would find in the average home. The general public would not be allowed in an area where there was sufficient radiation to fog a camera film.