Nuclear industry watchdog faces radical change

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The Independent Online

Ministers are pressing for radical change at Britain's nuclear watchdog, after the discovery of major safety lapses at Sellafield. They believe that the official Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has grown too close to the industry that it was set up to regulate.

Ministers are pressing for radical change at Britain's nuclear watchdog, after the discovery of major safety lapses at Sellafield. They believe that the official Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has grown too close to the industry that it was set up to regulate.

They want a "complete change of culture" at the Inspectorate, after it admitted finding deep-rooted failures at an important nuclear complex for the second time in two years. They believe that if it had been doing its job properly, safety at the plants would never have been allowed to deteriorate so far.

The Environment Minister Michael Meacher - who carpeted senior inspectors in the summer of 1998 after nuclear reprocessing at Dounreay, in the north of Scotland, was closed down as unsafe - is asking similarly tough questions after the Inspectorate published damning reports on safety at Sellafield 10 days ago.

The Sellafield reports showed that there was "no high-quality safety management system across the site", and that not enough resources were devoted to making even an inadequate one work.

They described a plant operating with a safety mechanism which "had been defective for a considerable period of time" and which staff said there was no need to repair, and a failure to report incidents or follow up recommendations, among many other lapses.

The Inspectorate has given Sellafield two months to draw up a programme to rectify the faults, or face possible closure.

But ministers believe that such long-standing failures should have been spotted and put right long ago. The Inspectorate counters that it is "not responsible for the day-to-day operation of the plant".

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