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Friday, 18 February, 2000, 23:15 GMT
Nuclear plant bosses face court

The Sellafield plant is at the centre of a damning safety report Sellafield: Damning safety report

The operators of the controversial Sellafield nuclear plant are to appear in court over the leak of concentrated nitric acid, it has emerged.

British Nuclear Fuels Plc and BNFL Engineering Ltd are to be prosecuted over breaches of safety regulations, the Health and Safety Executive said.

The allegations centre on an incident on 11 March last year, when concentrated nitric acid was released at the Cumbrian plant, injuring two employees.

The announcement comes as BNFL begins a "root and branch" review of management at Sellafield after a damning report into the falsification of fuel data.

A safety probe highlighted "systematic management failures" which allowed workers to falsify quality assurance records.


The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate made 15 recommendations aimed at improving the safety culture at Sellafield, the largest nuclear facility in the UK.

After the publication of the report BNFL also confirmed it had investigated suspected sabotage at the plant.

Last September two Mixed Oxide fuel rods were found to contain a small screw and a small piece of solid debris, which the management suspected were placed deliberately by staff.

Sellafield facts
Main activity: Recycling used fuel from nuclear power stations worldwide
It is one of the world's two principal recycling plants (the other is France's La Hague)
Employs more than 10,000 people on site
Mox production is a major new business for the site
Japan was its largest customer for Mox
An investigation failed to identify how the objects had got there, and BNFL said the inquiry was now closed.

The HSE said the incident for which the company faces prosecution involved approximately seven cubic metres of concentrated nitric acid being released at the Solvent Treatment Plant, during work on a valve.

The release resulted in the building being evacuated.

Two workers suffered slight acid burns, a fireman inhaled fumes and some damage occurred to the building and plant, it said.

The HSE alleges that BNFL failed to ensure the safety of its employees during the carrying out of commissioning and maintenance work in the Low Active Effluent Management Group Plant, including the Solvent Treatment Plant.

It also alleges that BNFL Engineering Ltd failed to ensure the safety of persons not in its employment during that period.

The cases are due to be heard at Whitehaven Magistrates' Court, Cumbria, on 6 April.

The Chairman of the Commons Trade and Industry Committee, Martin O'Neill MP, says this is unacceptable - and anyone found responsible for risking safety must go.

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See also:
18 Feb 00 |  UK
Nuclear plant safety condemned
18 Feb 00 |  UK
'Rotten' Sellafield sparks fury
18 Feb 00 |  UK
What is nuclear reprocessing?
18 Feb 00 |  Business
BNFL's troubled history
18 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan vents fury on BNFL
18 Feb 00 |  Northern Ireland
Nuclear plant's closure demanded

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