Notice served after radioactive gaskets found on Sellafield beach

Utslipp av plutonium fra Sellafield får fortsette.
Foto: Erik Martiniussen

Publish date: June 20, 2004

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

The discovery of two pieces of a radioactively contaminated rubber gasket on a beach near Sellafield, has led to a so-called Enforcement Notice being served to British Nuclear Fuels Plc, or BNFL.

The British Environment Agency served the enforcement notice—a legal warning to the company to more strictly guard its facilities—to BNFL on Thursday.

The enforcement notice follows an incident earlier this year when two pieces of a rubber gasket, contaminated with radioactivity, were found on a local beach outside the company’s Sellafield site. BNFL operates two nuclear reprocessing plants at Sellafield, both of which discharge large amounts of radioactive wastes to the Irish Sea.

Low radiation levels
Both of the two contaminated gaskets were discovered separately during routine BNFL checks of the Sellafield and Seascale beaches in January and February this year. Investigations by BNFL and the Agency have shown that the items had become detached from the diffuser at the end of one of the operational sealines (sealine 3) used by the company.

Subsequent tests revealed that the radiation levels of both gaskets were found to be low, thus presenting little potential hazard to the public. The gaskets were, however, found to be contaminated above agreed norms.
The enforcement notice was issued because of BNFL’s failure to comply with a condition of their operating authorisation—which is granted by the Environment Agency—to dispose of low level radioactive waste at their Sellafield site in Cumbria.


The authorisation from the Environmental Agency allows BNFL to discharge radioactively contaminated water from the Sellafield site via pipelines into the Irish Sea. However a key condition of the permit requires BNFL to maintain the systems used for the discharge of any radioactive waste in good repair.

In a statement Thursday, Andy Mayall, the Environment Agency’s nuclear regulator, commented: "Although the risks to the public on this occasion were low, this type of incident is both undesirable and preventable. This will require BNFL to undertake a thorough review of its inspection and maintenance of the discharge pipelines and to make any required improvements."

The Agency will now ask for a review of Sellafield’s pipeline design, with all work to be completed within an agreed timescale.

A BNFL spokesman said Friday: “The discovery of gasket material on the beach was publicly reported by us at the time of the event. Since then, we have carried out a detailed internal inquiry and are already implementing a range of improvements, including all of the work required by the Environment Agency. We are determined to learn from this event to ensure there are no repeat occurs.”

Scraps have escape before
Over the last year, BNFL has been working on a £13m project to remove three redundant discharge pipelines. Known as the Sealine Recovery Project, two 10-inch steel pipelines originally laid in 1949, and an 8-inch temporary plastic pipeline, laid around 1990, would be recovered from the seabed over a twelve month period and disposed of in BNFL’s onshore licensed low level waste dump at Drigg/Sellafield.

But operations have not been easy. In November last year, lengths of the plastic discharge pipe principally used for evacuating drainage water from the Sellafield site, escaped a seabed containment cage. The dismantled sections were temporarily stored in the seabed cage, waiting to be transported onshore. During stormy weather more than 170 cut pieces broke free from the containment cage and where washed ashore on different local beaches. Four sections where recovered as far away as Isle of Man. One showed slightly higher radiation than normal background levels. The cage originally held 364 lengths of pipe pieces.

More News

All news

The role of CCS in Germany’s climate toolbox: Bellona Deutschland’s statement in the Association Hearing

After years of inaction, Germany is working on its Carbon Management Strategy to resolve how CCS can play a role in climate action in industry. At the end of February, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action published first key points and a proposal to amend the law Kohlenstoffdioxid Speicherungsgesetz (KSpG). Bellona Deutschland, who was actively involved in the previous stakeholder dialogue submitted a statement in the association hearing.

Project LNG 2.

Bellona’s new working paper analyzes Russia’s big LNG ambitions the Arctic

In the midst of a global discussion on whether natural gas should be used as a transitional fuel and whether emissions from its extraction, production, transport and use are significantly less than those from other fossil fuels, Russia has developed ambitious plans to increase its own production of liquified natural gas (LNG) in the Arctic – a region with 75% of proven gas reserves in Russia – to raise its share in the international gas trade.