British Nuclear Fuels admits `near fatal' safety lapse : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

BNFL admits `near fatal' safety lapse

Source: The Guardian Publication date: Apr 07, 2000

British Nuclear Fuels yesterday admitted breaching safety regulations after three of its workers were burned during a leak of corrosive acid at its Sellafield reprocessing plant.

The men were injured at the Cumbrian plant in March last year when seven cubic metres of concentrated nitric acid escaped from a valve.

The accident happened because managers had allowed a culture to grow in which working practices were not checked, Whitehaven magistrates heard.

One worker would have suffered fatal burns had he not worn a protective chemical suit which was not routine for repair work, the court was told.

British Nuclear Fuels plc and BNFL Engineering Limited pleaded guilty to failing to ensure safety of workers during commissioning and maintenance work.

The court case came as it emerged that the government may decide to abandon reprocessing the remaining spent nuclear fuel at the Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness, and instead store it - the first time in 50 years of the nuclear industry that storage and disposal has officially been considered an alternative to reprocessing by ministers.

At Dounreay, the two experimental fast breeder reactors and other protoypes are already being dismantled, but Helen Liddell, energy minister, has yet to decide what to do about the reprocessing lines. Whitehaven magistrates heard yesterday that workers at BNFL's solvent treatment plant had taken to using their own system because procedures put in place by management were `complicated and unworkable'.

The case was subsequently adjourned to Carlisle crown court for sentencing to a date yet to be fixed. Yesterday Ms Liddell announced that in effect ministers will be letting the public decide what happens to the fuel at Dounreay by inviting the people to choose from three options.

The Dounreay works, which employs 2,000 people, was created at one of the remotest spots in mainland Britain because of the potential danger.

The three alternatives are to repair the lines and complete the reprocessing of 25 tonnes of fuel; close the plant and send the fuel to the Thorp reprocessing works in Cumbria to be dealt with; or to dry store the fuel and eventually, in around 50 years, find an underground vault in which to dispose of it.

This third option is what environmental groups have been demanding for years - not just at Dounreay but at Sellafield.

Their argument is that reprocessing is more expensive than storage and recovers pure bomb-making plutonium from the fuel, which would otherwise remain locked up and be no use to anyone.

The nuclear industry has resisted an end to reprocessing because it says that to store and dispose of fuel is a waste. The plutonium is too valuable as a potential energy source not to recover it.

The government has yet to decide between the two arguments - particularly a recommendation by the House of Lords science and technology committee that plutonium should be reclassified from the most valuable metal in the world to a nuclear waste.

Special report on Britain's nuclear industry on the Guardian network at

Publication date: Apr 07, 2000 ) 2000, NewsReal, Inc.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 07, 2000

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