Dismissed BNFL staff lose union support

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The Independent Online

The GMB union has withdrawn support from Sellafield workers dismissed for allegedly falsifying safety records.

It said it did not feel comfortable representing members at the centre of a dispute which had caused the state-owned British Nuclear Fuels so much damage. A spokesman said last night: "We do not feel able to defend them because of the implications of their alleged actions for the future of the plant and the livelihoods and the safety of employees." While the union had represented the employees internally, it has decided not to back them in employment tribunal cases.

They were meant to inspect fuel rods but allegedly used quality-assurance data applying to previous samples. Some rods, which are potentially very dangerous, were passed as safe when they had not undergone any checks. Five employees who worked on the production line have been dismissed. The company is still conducting an inquiry and middle managers may also be disciplined. Discovery of the falsification brought the business to the verge of collapse, prompting the Government to shelve a £1.5bn privatisation.

The union's decision came as the Government announced proposals for waste reprocessing at the Dounreay plant in Scotland to be transferred to Sellafield. It was one of three options for the future of Dounreay unveiled in announcements from the Westminster and Edinburgh governments. It also includes possible reprocessing or treatment of all Prototype Fast Reactor fuels at Dounreay. Another option is for reprocessing or treatment of the waste solely at Dounreay, as originally planned. The third is for treatment only for interim storage at the Caithness plant, indefinitely or until a national waste repository site is available. The Sellafield option would see transport of irradiated fuel to Sellafield for reprocessing, with unirradiated fuel reprocessed at Dounreay or overseas.

In another development, a magistrates' court in Cumbria was told that an acid leak in which three Sellafield workers were injured stemmed from poor management.

British Nuclear Fuels admitted breaching safety rules, resulting in three workers being burnt when nitric acid escaped from a valve in March last year. British Nuclear Fuels and BNFL Engineering pleaded guilty at Whitehaven magistrates' court to failing to ensure the safety of workers during commissioning and maintenance work.

It happened because of a systems failure, said John Batty, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive. The companies had problems in "cross-boundary communication".

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