BNFL fined after safety breaches at Sellafield

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British Nuclear Fuels was yesterday fined pounds 15,000 after a court found safety rules were breached during the transport of radioactive fuel within the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

A flask containing uranium rods was transported across the site although it had not been filled with water to prevent the rods catching fire, magistrates at Whitehaven were told. Site workers ignored and over-rode a warning alarm.

Tim Holroyde, prosecuting on behalf of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the Government's nuclear safety watchdog, said that at the time of the incident in March last year there were three broken pieces of fuel rod jammed inside a magazine being transported across the site. A shift foreman had certified the magazine contained the correct amount of water when in fact it was empty. The foreman also said the alarm that was sounding was false and authorised the flask's journey.

Despite a further check which revealed t hat the alarm was genuine another shift manager had still authorised the journey to go ahead, the court heard.

BNFL pleaded guilty to five breaches of safety rules and to keeping inadequate records. Each charge carried a maximum pounds 5,000 fine. The company was ordered to pay costs of pounds 1,600.

Presiding magistrate Gillian Kerrush said: "There seems to have been a certain amount of complacency that an alarm has been ignored or considered to be false and authorisations were not completed. We treat these breaches as very serious."

Gerard McDermott, for BNFL, said even if a fire had occurred there would have been no injury to the public or the Sellafield workforce. He continued: "That having been said, BNFL take this incident very seriously. I am invited to express regret they were in breach of conditions."

BNFL's director of magnox reprocessing, Richard Mrowicki, said the shift manager and five workers had been reprimanded but no one had been dismissed. He said modifications had been carried out to make it impossible for a flask without water to leave the separation plant again. The firm had increased staff awareness about correct procedures.

t Two top officials from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament were cleared yesterday on a judge's direction of obstructing a train carrying nuclear waste. At Snaresbrook Crown Court in north-east London, judge Nicholas Medawar, QC, ruled that the indictment against Pat Arrowsmith, CND's vice-president, and David Poldon, the movement's London co-ordinator, was "defective".