Damning report 'threatens' nuclear industry

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For educational use: BBC news Damning report 'threatens' nuclear industry - snip - Sellafield nuclear plant bosses have been condemned as throwing the industry's future "into doubt", in the light of a damning report into its safety standards.

The inspectors strongly criticise safety standards at the Cumbrian site - where quality control documents for reprocessed plutonium bound for Japan were deliberately falsified. The report is due to be published by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate on Friday morning.

Jack Cunningham, the former Cabinet Office minister and Labour MP for Copeland, in which the Sellafield plant is located, says the scandal has thrown the future of Britain's nuclear industry into doubt.

He said top-level management must accept responsibility for what has happened.

I'm particularly angry these mindless and thoughtless actions have jeopardised not only the jobs of the people directly involved, but many, many thousands of their fellow workers in the industry."

British Nuclear Fuels appears to be ruling out immediate resignations in the wake of the report. A leaked internal document says the company would be focusing on learning from the events and moving forward, seemingly steering clear of saying staff will be dismissed.

In another internal document obtained by the BBC, BNFL admits control of supervision and training of staff involved in the preparation of nuclear fuel was inadequate.

'Bitter blow'

The NII's 40-page study will paint an alarming picture of management incompetence and a culture of complacency.

Jack Dromey, national officer of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said the revelations came as a "bitter blow to the whole industry" and called for "urgent action".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is a devastating indictment, utterly unacceptable."

Mr Dromey demanded swift action, and said Sellafield was now on its last chance.

"All at Sellafield must accept collective responsibility for what had gone wrong," he said.

The scandal concerns safety procedures in a new Sellafield factory producing batches of uranium and plutonium mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel rods.

One batch of Mox fuel rods bound for Japan was found to have false records, prompting the Japanese authorities firstly to ban further imports and then to demand that a consignment already there was sent back to Britain.

BNFL chief executive John Taylor and board member Chris Loughlin flew to Tokyo this week to try to reassure the Japanese that the fuel is safe.

The NII report is expected to say there was no central control of safety, and that the number of staff had been run down.

BNFL says is already taking measures to restore customer confidence and strengthen its leadership, but rejects calls for senior executives at the plant to be sacked.

Pete Roche, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace, has called on BNFL to abandon reprocessing in the light of the report, moving towards decommissioning and "cleaning up" work at nuclear installations across the world.

And Dr Patrick Green, senior nuclear campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the report was a "damning indictment of a management culture that has led to the aggravation of problems rather than solving them".

Five workers have so far been dismissed over the scandal - three in October and two more last Tuesday.

They lost their jobs after it was discovered manual checks on the Mox fuel rods had been faked.

An NII spokesman said that although the issue was not really one of safety and the rods were not necessarily unsafe, "the issue of falsifying data is a serious one and we would not recommend it in any place of work, especially one dealing with potentially dangerous material".


The chief inspector of nuclear installations, Laurence Williams, will publish three reports on Sellafield on Friday, of which the Mox scandal is just one. The government had been planning to partly privatise BNFL.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers says the fiasco strengthens the case for a public-private partnership.

But opponents are bound to argue that any safety questions would undermine the case for private investment. - snip -

-- hzlz (mph@netbox.org), February 18, 2000

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