Radioactive waste from Sellafield accidently dumped in landfill site, court hears
Published at 08:17, Friday, 08 February 2013
Complacency and negligence at Sellafield Ltd resulted in bags of radioactive waste being accidently dumped at a landfill site, a court heard.
The company sent four bags from its plant to the Lillyhall landfill site in April 2010.
All of the bags, which contained waste such as gloves, mops and rubber, were retrieved and returned to Sellafield for correct disposal.
Seven charges have been brought by the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation, following an investigation into “multiple failures” and the incorrect disposal of low-level radioactive waste.
Sellafield has admitted the charges.
However, Eleanor Sanderson, for Sellafield, disputed that the error was out of complacency and negligence and claimed staff work “tirelessly” to maintain safety on site.
The case was heard at West Cumbria Magistrates Court yesterday and has been adjourned for sentencing at Carlisle Crown Court on March 8.
The court heard from Barry Berlin, for the Health Safety Executive and Environment Agency.
He said an error was caused by a new monitor which had passed the bags as ‘general’ waste making them exempt from strict disposal controls.
The mistake only came to light when a training exercise was carried out at Sellafield.
An investigation was immediately launched and it was reported that five bags containing radioactive waste had passed through undetected.
One remained at Sellafield and the other four had already been transported to Lillyhall.
Further investigations showed that one of the four bags at Lillyhall had split, contaminating a further five bags.
Tests by the Environment Agency have since established there was no contamination at the landfill site.
Dr Rob Allott, nuclear regulator team leader for the Environment Agency, said: “It’s highly likely that some groups of people would have been exposed to radioactivity.
"The waste is inherently hazardous, but with a low risk factor.”
He said the risk to people and wildlife would have been very low.
The court heard there was further “multiples failures” regarding transportation regulations.
Sellafield said a number of improvements have been made since then.
Mr Berlin said: “There is no doubt that these are welcomed changes.
"But because we are dealing with radioactivity we submit these should have checked beforehand.
“Complacency and negligence was apparent from the beginning from the procurement of the monitors.
"There was a considerable potential for harm.”
Eleanor Sanderson, for Sellafield, said the company was “disappointed” by the incident.
She said two monitors were set up and Sellafield assumed that the first machine had been configured, to show how radioactive waste was, if at all.
She said numerous checks were carried out, however Sellafield accepted there was an “insufficient testing of bags at higher activities”.
She said the company admitted that the root cause was failings in “ordering and testing of the machine”.
However, she disputed that the error was out of complacency and negligence and claimed staff work “tirelessly” to maintain safety on site.
Since the incident, changes have been made to ensure numerous checks are carried out on waste before it is disposed of.
“This was not a reckless act, it is a regrettable error, ”she added.
Magistrates said: “We are taking into account that the risk was low. But we feel that this is a risk that should not have been there.
"The checks that have been put in place now should have been there in the first place.”
Ian Parker, nuclear regulations manager for the Environment Agency, said:
“Our overriding aim in regulating the nuclear industry is to protect people and the environment from the release of radioactive wastes into the environment.
“We have carried out a thorough investigation in partnership with the ONR and have already required Sellafield Ltd to take action to ensure this does not happen again.”
Ian Barlow, of the ONR, added: “We require the nuclear industry to control its hazards and ensure it has effective procedures in place for transporting and disposing of all forms of waste.
"Where necessary, we will use enforcement action to protect people and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry.”
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
Have your say
This does not surprise me at all, Sellafield are not safety consious, Oh! the rules and regulations maybe but no-one bothers to check that they are being carried out.It is about time people realised that Nuclear energy is the begining of the end of Mankind.It is no good complaining to the Coucillors, they will not reply, they are to busy sorting out their expenses. I know I have tried it.
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