BNFL fined over Sellafield safety breaches

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The operators of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant were fined £24,000 yesterday after admitting a breach of safety regulations for the second time in four months.

The operators of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant were fined £24,000 yesterday after admitting a breach of safety regulations for the second time in four months.

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) admitted four charges of failing to comply with an improvement notice served on it by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in March last year, and of mismanaging the 1,613 sealed radioactive sources at the Cumbrian site.

And the closure of Sellafield's flagship Thorp reprocessing plant for several weeks from today has been forced on BNFL because of technical problems affecting an evaporator which receives Thorp waste. Whitehaven magistrates were told the company had failed to ensure regular checks were made to detect possible leakage of radioactivity from sealed sources at the plant.

BNFL, fined £40,000 in June for a potentially fatal acid leak, also pleaded guilty to misplacing one source, failing to keep records of the quantity and location of the sealed sources and of not complying with the improvement notice.

Simon Parrington, prosecuting for the HSE, said discrepancies at the site first came to light in January 1999 when staff at the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate were notified that a sealed source could not be accounted for.

An inspector discovered that the incident was not isolated and an improvement notice was served ordering the company to improve the management of the sources by 31 September. Mr Parrington said this was not done and an extension was given for improvements to be carried out by 31 January this year.

An inspector returned to the site in February and discovered checks were not being carried out and proper records were not being kept. In addition, the missing sealed source had not been recovered.

Mr Parrington added: "The breaches of regulations, most particularly the failure to comply with the improvement notice, are very serious matters.

"BNFL and its employees and contractors handle radioactive substances. Because of the potential harm associated with radiation and the escape of radioactive substances, employees, contractors and the general public have a right to be protected." BNFL, added Mr Parrington, had failed to appreciate the extent of the difficulties it had at Sellafield.

The company was also ordered to pay £4,800 costs.

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