Magnox must pay £400,000 for 14-year radioactive leak

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A company which ran a nuclear power station was today fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £150,000 legal costs after being convicted of allowing radioactive waste to leak out of a decontamination unit and into the ground over a 14-year period.

Magnox Electric Ltd breached laws governing the disposal of radioactive waste - and failed to maintain a sump - at the Bradwell nuclear power station near Maldon, Essex, between 1990 and 2004, Chelmsford Crown Court heard.

Judge Peter Fenn told the court that Magnox had missed an opportunity to check the safety of the sump and missed a "warning signal" - but he said the "environmental impact" of the leak had been "limited".

It is the second time in eight years that Magnox has been fined for breaching legislation governing nuclear waste disposal and plant maintenance.

In 2001 Magnox was fined £100,000 - plus costs - after being convicted of committing offences at Bradwell and the Hinkley Point nuclear power station near Bridgewater, Somerset.

Magnox no longer runs Bradwell, which was shut down in 2002 and is being decommissioned by the Government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Industry regulator the Environment Agency said it was pleased with the penalties imposed by the judge.

A spokesman said the case "wouldn't do the reputation of the nuclear industry any good" but maintained that the industry was well-run, well-regulated and prosecutions were rare.

He said tests showed that the radioactive waste had seeped into soil under the plant and would not spread outside the site. Experts had concluded that the safest way to deal with the waste was to leave it to decay for 100 years then have the soil cleared and decontaminated. He said the NDA would remain responsible for the site during that time.

Magnox said it had inherited the faulty sump from previous owner the Central Electricity Generating Board but added that it was "deeply embarrassed" by its failure to identify the problem.

Martyn Bowyer, for Magnox, told the court: "The contamination has effectively remained within the footprint of the building. There is no significant risk either to workers on the site or, more importantly, to the general public."