Sellafield faces court action over alleged low level waste shipments to erroneous location

Sellafield slipper daglig ut store mengder Technetium-99. Nå viser det seg at IFE har importert uran fra eierne.
Foto: Erik Martiniussen/ Bellona

Publish date: November 19, 2012

Written by: Charles Digges

Sellafield Ltd., the operator the UK’s huge nuclear site in northern England – which handles various fuel cycle and waste management facilities as well as several ongoing decommissioning efforts – faces prosecution over claims it sent low level radioactive waste to a standard landfill, according to UK nuclear and environmental regulators.

Sellafield Ltd stands accused of sending and disposing of four bags of low level waste to the Lillyhall conventional landfill site in nearby Workington in 2010, which culminated in two main violations: the transport of the bags by road under conditions unsuitable for waste classified as dangerous, and their disposal in a conventional landfill.

In a brief statement on its website, Sellafield Ltd said: “The Environment Agency (EA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have summoned us to attend Workington Magistrate’s Court in relation to offences arising from the consignment of waste bags to Lillyhall in April 2010.”

“As this matter is subject to court proceedings we are unable to comment further at this stage,” the statement concluded. The charges were made known to Sellafield on Friday.

Sellafield, one of the world’s largest nuclear sites, handles a variety of fuel cycle and waste management facilities in operation as well as several ongoing decommissioning projects.

The Environment Agency will pursue eight charges against the company, while the Office for Nuclear Regulation is pursuing one. Some charges stem from a shipment that took place in April 2010, while others concern work practices at the site, said WNN.

The specifics of the charges

Those familiar with the issue said the Environmental Agency charges are being brought under the Radioactive Substances Act and Environmental Permitting Regulations, while the Office for Office for Nuclear Regulation charge is brought under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment regulations of 2009.  

A complete description of the EA’s charges can be found here. A similar release was also published on the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR’s) website.

The bags of low level waste accidentally sent to the conventional landfill are now being safely stored, said a source familiar with the case, but who was not authorized to speak publically about it. It remains unknown for now what penalties Sellafield Ltd could potentially face, and authorities were unable to comment.

A spokeswoman from ONR, told Bellona in an email that, “as this is a matterfor the magistrates’ court, we are unable to comment beyond what we have already stated publicly.”

Such waste, said World Nuclear News, usually consists of lightly-contaminated disposable equipment like clothing, filters, masks and gloves from plant operations, and is disposed of in dedicated landfills that are lined to prevent water contamination.

Two year investigation

The charges against of Sellafield Ltd, which is responsible for nuclear waste management on behalf of the UKs Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, follows a two and a half year investigation by regulators.

The investigation discovered alleged failings in Sellafield Ltd’s performance and management, on dating back to 2008, WNN reported.

The company has been additionally accused of letting the incorrect shipment to occur by failing to check on its systems procedures, of failing to have a sufficient management systems in place to meet its obligations, and of not using the best practicable means to conduct measurements and analysis.

Those familiar with the charges brought against Sellafield Ltd. confirmed it had been summoned before the Workington Magistrate’s Court on December 12, but could offer no further information.

In an email to the Bloomberg news wire, Karl Connor, a spokesman for Sellafield, said the company will “take the time to consider the information provided to us,” but similarly said he could comment no further.

The charges leveled against Sellafield for its alleged mishandling of the low level waste is the second time this month the site’s safety had been brought into question.

The UK public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), said in a report released earlier this month that spiraling costs for decommissioning the Sellafield site itself – one of the largest nuclear sites in the world – had run out of control, posing ongoing risks to the British public from the enormous amounts nuclear waste stored there.

The NAO issued several recommendations toward pursuing the site’s decommissioning, suggestions Sellafield Ltd said it welcomed.