'Unsafe' nuclear fuel plant rejects calls for closure

THE SECRETARY of State for Defence, Geoffrey Hoon, has rejected calls for the closure of a secret nuclear fuel plant in Derby despite news that safety watchdogs had warned of serious problems.

THE SECRETARY of State for Defence, Geoffrey Hoon, has rejected calls for the closure of a secret nuclear fuel plant in Derby despite news that safety watchdogs had warned of serious problems.

The Rolls-Royce plant, a mile from the city centre, does not have an emergency plan although it handles material even more dangerous than the uranium that caused the nuclear accident in Tokaimura, Japan, last month.

The community knew that the plant made engines for Trident submarines but, because the work was classified, it did not know nuclear fuel was processed there. Details were revealed yesterday in a leaked document, which said that the factory undertakes the "manufacture of submarine fuel".

John Ahern, a local councillor, vowed to investigate reports of serious safety flaws at the factory. Mr Ahern, who is a member of the council's liaison committee with Rolls-Royce, said: "I am extremely concerned, but if there has been a breach in safety I will address the issue."

In March, a report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate - part of the Health and Safety Executive - severely criticised the safety procedures at the plant. It reportedly questioned the communications between the local emergency services and the site, and wanted a more effective contamination-free zone to be available to the emergency services in the event of a radiation leak. A spokeswoman for the HSE said: "There was an emergency exercise in March, following which we asked for some improvements and a repeat of the exercise, which took place on Wednesday."

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said the situation at the Rolls-Royce plant in Derby was "potentially worse" than Japan, "because of the type of materials being used". CND said Rolls-Royce was using up to 93 per cent highly enriched uranium compared with just 20 per cent being mixed at Tokaimura.

Dave Knight, chairman of CND, said: "Urgent answers are needed to some very serious questions. Why is there no emergency plan? Are there any containment procedures for a critical accident? This plant should be immediately closed down."

CND said that workers at the factory had expressed concerns about safety lapses. The workers said there was no facility for containing radiation if a serious accident occurred and there was no off-site emergency plan to deal with a nuclear accident.

A spokesman for Rolls-Royce said: "We have now clarified the position, changed our procedures and practised them three times."

Mr Hoon, a Derbyshire MP, said: "Those concerns have been addressed by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and they've given the plant an entirely clean bill of health."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The plant at Derby is operated by Rolls-Royce, who take fuel delivered by the Ministry of Defence, where it is then treated to produce fuel suitable for use in nuclear submarine reactors.

"This plant, which was commissioned in 1994-1995, is a civilian plant and is subject to full civil regulations."

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