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The Astrologer's Newsletter - Nov/Dec 2007

October 1957: Uranus, Saturn and the Race For Power

by Val Dobson

What was happening in early October 1957?

The Sellafield Plant Today
On 7th October, engineers at the Windscale nuclear plant in Cumbria were performing routine maintenance on the No. 1 plutonium pile; there were signs of a heat build-up inside the pile, so at 19.30 GMT they started a controlled shut-down, something they did regularly.

For the next two and a half days, the process appeared to be going normally. But on the 10th, the log book noted at 05.40 GMT, "Pile stack activity had increased"; around noon, the stack activity had "gone off the scale"(1). From then on it was clear that some of the graphite rods inside the pile were actually on fire and producing a runaway heating process.

In the words of technician Arthur Wilson: "I opened the gag-port and there it was - a fire at the face of the reactor. I thought: 'Oh dear, now we are in a pickle.'"(2) It was a real 'pickle'; the Chief Constable and the local council were alerted to an imminent disaster, and plant workers rang their families in the nearby village of Seascale to tell them to get out of the area straightaway. Mothers ran to the local school to take their children and all the villagers were warned to stay indoors. Measured radioactive emissions were rising fast, with clouds of radioactive particles being discharged from the plant's airstack. Radioactivity from the fire was measured as far away as mainland Europe.

The fire was fought through the afternoon, evening and night of the 10th, with workers unsuccessfully trying to push out the rods that were on fire. This was dangerous and difficult work; the men had to wear full radiation suits with breathing apparatus and it was so hot that at one point molten uranium was dripping onto the floor at their feet.

At 9am on the 11th, the decision was made to turn waterhoses directly on to the burning rods. This was an extremely risky gamble, a last-ditch attempt. Tom Touhy, the plant manager, said later: "If you mix steam and graphite you make a gas that is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can explode violently, so it is not a very nice mix,"(2) But it worked; the pile temperature started going down down and the fire was out by midday. The UK had missed its first nuclear meltdown by a matter of a few degrees Fahrenheit.

The Windscale plant had been built ostensibly to produce electric power. It did that, but - kept secret from the public at the time - its real purpose was to provide plutonium for Britain's H-Bomb program (a test explosion using Windscale plutonium had taken place at Australia's Woomera testing ground on October 6th). The British government badly wanted atomic weapons to keep up with the "big boys" of the United States and the USSR. So the plant was rushed into production, with consequent corner-cutting that was largely responsible for the near-disaster.

The main planetary aspects for that time are a trine between Uranus in Leo and Saturn in Sagittarius, with a number of faster planets at the midpoint in Libra; additionally, these faster planets are also crossing the midpoint of the ongoing Neptune/Pluto sextile. Lots of outer-planet energies were being triggered.

Chart of the Windscale Pile Shutdown

The chart for for the pile shutdown shows Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Sun in Libra; there is a Moon/Mercury opposition that hits the midpoint of the the Pluto/Neptune sextile; the Uranus/Chiron opposition is square to the Nodes.

Throughout the 7th and the 8th, the Moon in Aries opposed first Mars, then Jupiter - the fire was raging and expanding. These potentially explosive oppositions were undoubtedly softened by the Grand Trine the Moon made with Uranus and Saturn on the 8th. Uranus in Leo is flamboyant and grandstanding, full of tricks and surprises; Saturn in Sagittarius is caution and care in pushing boundaries. Knit together by a fiery moon, these influences were strong and benign.

Early in the morning of the 9th, the Moon reached opposition to the Libran Sun. The situation was in the balance, literally. The next aspect the Moon made was a quincunx to Venus in the early hours of the 11th; not the best of aspects, but far from being one of the worst. After that, both planets were void of course, with Venus passing into Sagittarius and the Moon entering Taurus.

Finally, on the 11th, when manager Tom Touhy gave the order for the hoses to be turned onto the fire, the transiting North Node was conjunct the local Asc - the decisive moment?


Chart of Sputnik launch

But the atomic arms race wasn't the only race going on at the time. On October 4th 1957, Russia launched Sputnik I, the first space satellite. America had just started its own satellite program, but had yet to launch anything. For the Russians, getting into space first was more than a scientific triumph; having Russian hardware orbiting above US territory was an reminder that Russia had rockets capable of sending bombs around the world. This kicked off the great "Space Race" between the two countries that culminated in the 1969 Moon landing.

The UK wasn't left out of this particular October Uranus-in-Leo-trine-Saturn-in-Sagittarius adventure entirely. During the late summer, what was then the world's largest radio telescope, the Lovell Telescope, had been built at Jodrell Bank, in NW England.

I've not been able to find precise data, but the telescope was operated by its own computer for the first time on 9th October(4) and its first major operation was the detection of Sputnik in orbit, on October 12th. No other radio telescope was then capable of this, and it confirmed to the world that the Space Race had begun.


(1) Report of the Proceedings into the Fire at Windscale Pile No 1, October 1957. (Available from

(2) (PDF file)

(3) Oct 4th 1957; 19:28:34 GMT; Baikonour Cosmodrome (45N37 63E19) (Source:

(4) Wikipedia


The Windscale plant was formally opened by the Queen on the 17th October 1956. At 12.16pm she pulled the lever that sent electricity from the power station to the National Grid. (Source: BBC News)

The No 1 pile was never reopened. On 25th June 2007, the No2 pile was decommissioned, by removing the last radioactive cartridges. (Source: