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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