German power firm ditches Sellafield fuel

PreussenElektra bows to government pressure after admitting it knew of safety check irregularities

Germany's second largest electricity generator, PreussenElektra, today announced it was removing nuclear fuel rods made at the UK's Sellafield nuclear plant from its Unterweser power station because fuel pellet monitoring data had been "forged".

The development marks a further escalation in the row sparked by a damning report on Sellafield and its operator British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) released by the UK authorities last Friday (ENDS Daily 18 February). This investigation concerned only the "falsification" of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel pellet monitoring data for fuel rods made for Kansai Electric of Japan. Furthermore, it emerged today that there had also been irregularities in safety data documentation accompanying Sellafield MOX fuel made for a utility in Switzerland.

PreussenElektra admitted on Monday that it had known since November of safety documentation irregularities affecting a batch of MOX fuel made for it at Sellafield in 1996. Its decision to remove fuel rods from Unterweser follows a meeting yesterday at which the federal environment ministry demanded to know why the nuclear licensing authority, Lower Saxony's environment ministry, had not been informed earlier about the false documents. The state's environment minister, Wolfgang Jüttner, said on Monday that he was "speechless" at the deception.

As in the case of fuel made for Kansai Electric, the data falsification concerns documentation of a final manual check on the size of MOX fuel pellets after a first automated one. However, BNFL insists that the breach of procedures was less severe than in the Japanese case, where operators bored of taking successive measurements randomly substituted data sheets from earlier batches.

Manual checks were made for the PreussenElektra fuel, as required, the firm claims, but the data were lost when a computer crashed. In the knowledge that no problems had been revealed, a shift manager substituted quality data from an earlier batch in order to "complete the audit trail".

According to BNFL, the incident should be regarded as "improper documentation" rather than "falsification". A spokesperson said the company was "very disappointed" that PreussenElektra "felt it was necessary to replace the fuel". Both BNFL and the German firm denied there had been any safety risk.

Follow Up:
PreussenElektra, tel: +49 511 4390; BNFL, tel: +44 1925 834 000.

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