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‘Serious safety concerns' over UK nuclear plant at Sellafield

Panorama has revealed safety concerns at Sellafield , a nuclear fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site in north England
Gareth McKeown

AN investigation into the UK's most hazardous nuclear site has revealed a host of 'serious safety concerns', including the risk of a radioactive plume spreading over western Europe.

The BBC Panorama programme highlighted potential risks at Sellafield, a nuclear fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site in north England.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said a plan to decommission Sellafield must now come.

The SDLP politician said the risks exposed by Panorama are the latest in a "litany of hazards" since Sellafield became a nuclear waste processing site.

Ms Ritchie has previously spoken out about the discharge of radioactive material into the Irish Sea.

Panorama outlined failures in terms of staffing levels, infrastructure and the condition of facilities at the site, with operational safety concerns also expressed.

It claimed that parts of Sellafield were regularly under-staffed and fell below the minimum levels.

In one month it was revealed it was guilty of this offence 19 times, while on average the staffing regulations were breached once a week.

Figures obtained by Panorama show that between July 2012 and July 2013 there were 97 incidents where parts of the site had too few workers on shift.

Ms Ritchie said it was time for an "acceleration of the nuclear decommissioning process and the establishment of a secure, long-term containment strategy" for the Sellafield waste.

"It has always been needlessly reckless to place a nuclear waste processing site on a geological fault line, and the indiscriminate discharge of radioactive material into the waters of the Irish Sea has damaged delicate marine ecosystems," she said.

"That is why I and the SDLP have consistently opposed the transportation of nuclear waste to Sellafield by air, sea or land."

"The government must also learn from these hazards and avoid worsening the situation with new nuclear developments at Moorside and Hinkley Point.

"Nuclear waste is a toxic burden that lasts for generations and cannot ever be part of a truly sustainable electric grid."

The programme was prompted by a whistle-blower - a former senior manager at Sellafield, who became increasingly concerned by operations at the plant.

He told Panorama his biggest fear was a fire in one of the nuclear waste silos or one of the processing plants could spread hundreds of miles.

 

The BBC investigation also raised concerns over safety at the plant, with reports that thousands of sensors and alarms were being reset, rather than fully investigated and radioactive materials not being stored in the correct manner.

The facilities at the site were also said to be dangerously run-down, with reports that "years of neglect" had led to "intolerable conditions" for staff.

In response Sellafield said the site in Cumbria was safe and had been improved with significant investment in recent years.

Dr Rex Strong, head of nuclear safety at Sellafield, dismissed concerns and said "safety is our priority".

According to estimates from Panorama there are just four years of reprocessing left at the site, but the clean up may take up to 100 years and cost as much as £162bn

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