Nuclear rail incidents increase

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The Independent Online
SERIOUS incidents involving the transport of nuclear rail flasks have increased sharply in the run-up to rail privatisation, writes Paul Routledge.

Transport Minister Steven Norris has admitted that since Railtrack took over the infrastructure from British Rail in 1994, there have been three nuclear flask incidents and 13 "irregularities". This compares with 10 irregularities and no incidents during the three years from 1991.

The Government's admission comes in a letter from Mr Norris to MP Glenda Jackson, Labour's transport campaign co-ordinator. But the minister insists: "None of these events resulted in damage to the flask or the release of radioactivity."

However, the Opposition is calling for an "urgent review" of safety procedures in the light of the sharp rise in incidents.

"Rail has always been the safest way of transporting hazardous materials," said Ms Jackson. "But these figures again raise serious concerns over the impact privatisation is having on rail safety."

According to the Irradiated Fuel Transport Flask Emergency Plan (IFTFEP), which is administered by Nuclear Electric plc, a nuclear flask irregularity is declared when there is "a minor administrative technical problem" which does not require the attendance of the emergency services but does require the attendance of a nuclear industry representative.

Nuclear flask "incidents" are declared when a rail wagon has an accident "which has caused, or could lead to, the integrity of the flask being impaired". Examples include derailment, fire, "significant" damage, leakage, or if "the flask is endangered by sabotage or a security threat".