Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nuclear Event - Radioactive spills and breakdown revealed at British nuclear plants - 20th Apr 2011

Leaked report details incidents at three plants during February that were serious enough to be reported to ministers

There have been two spillages of radioactive waste and a breakdown in an emergency cooling system at Britain's nuclear plants in the past three months, according to a report to ministers leaked to the Guardian.

A brown puddle containing plutonium five times the legal safety limit leaked from an old ventilation duct at the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria. This exposed "a number of shortfalls in the design", says the report.

Groundwater at the Torness nuclear power station near Edinburgh was contaminated with radioactive tritium (a form of hydrogen) leaking from two pipelines. At Hartlepool nuclear station on the north-east coast of England, the back-up cooling system was put out of action by a faulty valve.

All three incidents occurred in February this year and are still under investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the government's newly created nuclear safety watchdog. They were sufficiently serious to be reported to ministers under safety guidelines agreed in the wake of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine 25 years ago.

Disclosure of the incidents could further delay the government's plans for a new programme of nuclear power stations, already being held up by a safety review prompted by the Fukushima accident in Japan. Critics will press for the incidents to be included in the review, being led by the executive head of the ONR, Mike Weightman.

The Guardian has been provided with a copy of a report on the incidents sent to ministers on 18 April by Weightman. It was circulated to the energy secretary, Chris Huhne; the business secretary, Vince Cable; the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman; the employment minister, Chris Grayling; the Scottish secretary, Michael Moore; and the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond. Read More