Windscale - 1957 inquiry
The most amazing thing about this - having just read it on the BBC website - is the live transcript of the original inquiry. It was completed in a handful of days, seemingly on site (given the repeated access to key staff and data) before the reactor had cooled.
Although it is common knowledge in an abstract way, it really brings one up short how, without computers, large amounts of the scientific data had to be calculated and plotted overnight by teams of scientists, to satisfy the demands for analysis from the inquiry board.
At one point, they say the calculation is impossible without a digital computer (which could probably be done on a scientific calculator twenty years ago) and offer an "analogue" instead. Not an analogue computer, an analogue system (using water - rather like the old economic model at the LSE) :-)
There is a real tension, as the physicists make bold approximations and the analyses are rushed to the board. It is masterful piece of scientific detection, and as gripping as a novel. Partly, this is our hindsight, making one hope that the inquiry do not follow blind alleys or grasp at the wrong data.
I accidentally clicked on it in the morning and could not put it down until I had read all 250 pages. The last hurrah of the Edwardian public service generation, a handful of experts calmly, gently, politely and magisterially question the various UKAEA staff and very quickly assemble a picture of what went wrong.
Read it and weep, for the hysteria, spin and ignorance with which it would be conducted today, by some grandstanding little shits.