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The BBC's Steven Evans reports
"There was no central control of safety"
 real 28k

Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 22:25 GMT
Sellafield nuclear records faked

mox checks BNFL will resist calls for high-level sackings

A damning report into the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria will say safety records have been systematically falsified.

The 40-page study by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), due out on Friday, also paints an alarming picture of management incompetence and a culture of complacency.

Urgent action is now necessary to ensure world class standards of safety in future, ending the old, failed and now discredited culture of complacency
Jack Dromey of the Transport and General Workers' Union
The scandal concerns safety procedures in a new plant factory producing batches of uranium and plutonium mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel rods.

One batch bound for Japan was found to have false records, prompting the investigation by the NII.

The report says there was no central control of safety and separate businesses in Sellafield had different line managers.

It also found the number of staff had been run down.

The BBC has learned British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), which owns Sellafield, will admit there was deliberate falsification of some quality controls.

It will also concede that managers and supervisors failed to detect discrepancies and that control and supervision arrangements were generally inadequate.

Training was either minimal or non-existent in some employees, it will add.

shipment of waste Shipments of waste are sent round the world by container
BNFL says is already taking measures to restore customer confidence and strengthen its leadership, but rejects calls for senior executives at the plant to be sacked.

Jack Dromey, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, demanded swift action.

"All at Sellafield must accept collective responsibility for what had gone wrong," he said.

"Urgent action is now necessary to ensure world class standards of safety in future, ending the old, failed and now discredited culture of complacency."

It remains to be seen if ministers will demand further sackings from BNFL.

Last month, Energy Minister Helen Liddel met Hugh Collum, chairman of the state-owned BNFL, and warned him that senior officials faced the axe.

Five sacked

Five workers have so far been dismissed over the scandal - three in October and two more on Tuesday this week.

They lost their jobs after it was discovered manual checks on the Mox fuel rods had been faked. The checks involved measuring the diameters of samples of fuel pellets within the rods.

BNFL has admitted employees saved time by by-passing quality control checks.

An NII spokesman said that although the issue was not really one of safety and the rods were not necessarily unsafe, "the issue of falsifying data is a serious one and we would not recommend it in any place of work especially one dealing with potentially dangerous material".

Public-private partnership

Some of the Mox fuel is exported abroad for use in nuclear power plants, and one of the largest customers is Japan.

After the first sackings, the Japanese loss of confidence in the fuel prompted authorities firstly to ban further imports and then to demand that a consignment already there was sent back to Britain.

The chief inspector of nuclear installations, Laurence Williams, is expected to publish three reports on Sellafield on Friday, of which the Mox scandal is just one.

The government had been planning to partly privatise BNFL.

'Fundamental flaw'

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers says the fiasco strengthens the case for a public-private partnership.

But opponents are bound to argue that any safety questions would undermine the case for private investment.

Mr Byers admitted to a House of Commons select committee this week: "The events [at Sellafield] show a fundamental flaw in the management at BNFL and that has to change."

BNFL chief executive John Taylor and board member Chris Loughlin have flown to Tokyo to try to assure nuclear chiefs there that the British fuel is safe.

The company's 300m Sellafield Mox Plant is not in use, as the government has so far refused to grant an operating licence because of fears Mox fuel may not make a profit.

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See also:
08 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
UK apologises for Japanese nuclear scandal
07 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
UK defends nuclear record in Japan
17 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
More suspect nuclear fuel found
06 Oct 99 |  The Company File
Nuclear workers sacked for fake checks
16 Sep 99 |  Northern Ireland
Nuclear plant under attack from MP

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