UK nuclear plant safety procedures slammed

Official review of data falsification scandal, general safety, finds serious deficiencies

The UK's official nuclear safety authority today issued damning criticisms of the Sellafield nuclear plant, undermining government plans to part-privatise the business and further inflaming safety concerns of the plant's major Japanese customer following December's revelation that safety information had been falsified.

Managed by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), Sellafield manufactures nuclear fuel rods, reprocesses spent nuclear fuel from nine countries and treats and stores radioactive wastes. The plant long been controversial - attacked by the Irish government over radioactive emissions to the Irish Sea, by Scandinavian governments over discharges of the radioactive element technetium 99 and by environmental groups which oppose both its manufacture of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and its fuel reprocessing operations.

In the first of three reports issued today, the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), part of the national health and safety agency, concludes that workers were able to falsify records on the size of MOX fuel pellets for delivery to Japan because of a "systematic management failure". "The [manufacturing] plant is shut down and will not be allowed to restart until we are satisfied that the recommendations in our report have been implemented, NII chief inspector Laurence Williams said.

A second NII report reviewing general safety measures at the Sellafield plant concludes that the site "lacks a high quality safety management system". In addition, the plant does not have "sufficient resources to implement its existing safety management system," nor does it have an "effective, independent inspection, auditing and review system".

The report finds that "current site operations are safe" despite the shortcomings identified. It calls on BNFL to produce a programme responding to the report's recommendations within two months. Likewise, the report on the data falsification scandal concludes that the false data sheets "would have no effect on safety of the fuel in a nuclear reactor". A third report reviews safety of Sellafield's high-level liquid waste storage operation, which it finds to be "acceptably safe".

Follow Up:
UK Health and Safety Executive, tel: +44 151 951 4103 (nuclear safety directorate), and the reports on fuel data falsification, control of operations and safety of liquid waste storage.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.