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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 14:02 GMT
Safety flaws caused nuclear accident
Magnox fuel rods
The fuel rods fell down a discharge shaft
Investigators have blamed "procedural and hardware deficiencies" for an accident at a Scottish nuclear power station.

Two dozen fuel rods slipped and fell to the floor at Chapelcross in Dumfriesshire during the incident last July.

However, nuclear inspectors said the accident had not posed any health risk to workers or the public.

HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) made several recommendations to improve safety at the plant in their report, which was published on Tuesday.


BNFL has made a positive response to our findings and has initiated a programme to implement the necessary improvements

Laurence Williams
HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations
The incident took place at the British Nuclear Fuels-run (BNFL) power station, near Annan.

The accident happened during a refuelling operation for reactor three.

The 12kg rods - bars of uranium metal clad in an outer magnox can - were in a large cylindrical basket which came loose as it was being lowered into a cooling pond.

Twelve of the rods remained in the basket and were quickly accounted for.

The other 12 dropped 50ft down a discharge shaft and were found following an inspection of the area around the reactor.

Safety recommendations

The rods are placed inside reactors as part of the nuclear fission process that generates heat and ultimately electricity.

Members of the plant's incident team were called to deal with the situation as carbon dioxide was sprayed over the basket to ensure it did not catch fire.

Laurence Williams, HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, said the report into the incident had made several recommendations to improve the safety of the defuelling operation.

Chapelcross (picture courtesy of FreeFoto.com)
The Chapelcross plant is at Annan
"BNFL has made a positive response to our findings and has initiated a programme to implement the necessary improvements.

"Whilst I have no doubts that BNFL will deliver the required improvements, we shall monitor progress via our normal process of regulation," he said.

He said the NII, part of the Health and Safety Executive, would take the necessary action if inadequate progress was made at the plant.

Mr Williams said: "The incident ... occurred as a result of a combination of procedural and hardware deficiencies.

"As a result of our investigation, I am satisfied that no worker or member of the public incurred any harm from release of radioactive material.

"I am also satisfied that there was no deliberate attempt by BNFL to deceive NII in relation to the reporting of the event or the status of plant at the time."


While it is reassuring that the public were not exposed to danger, it is not reassuring that the incident was the result of procedural difficulties

Kevin Dunion
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth Scotland's chief executive Kevin Dunion welcomed the report.

But he said: "We remain concerned that the accident was not immediately made public, even though the Chapelcross emergency plans were activated and the regulatory authorities were informed.

"Also, while it is reassuring that the public were not exposed to danger, it is not reassuring that the incident was the result of procedural difficulties."

Scottish National Party MSP Fiona McLeod said: "BNFL must immediately implement the recommendations of this report and I am confident that the HSE will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that this happens."

See also:

21 Jul 01 | Scotland
Fresh nuclear plant investigation
18 Jul 01 | Scotland
Nuclear rod recovery progressing
14 Jul 01 | Scotland
Delays force nuclear shutdown
13 Jul 01 | Scotland
MP given nuclear plant assurance
08 Jul 01 | Scotland
Nuclear plant accident probed
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