Sellafield fails in appeal against £700k fine

21st January 2014

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  • Pollution & Waste Management


Mark Fenton

The court of appeal has rejected Sellafield Limited's claim that the £700,000 fine it received for sending radioactive waste to landfill was "manifestly excessive"

The Lord Chief Justice was joined by Justice Mitting and Justice Thirwall in dismissing the firm’s appeal, arguing that the fine imposed by Carlisle crown court accurately reflected Sellafield operating company’s culpability and turnover.

In June 2013, Judge Peter Hughes QC fined the firm £100,000 for each of seven environment and safety offences relating to an incident in April 2010 when four bags of low-level radioactive waste were sent to the Lillyhall landfill site in Workington, Cumbria.

The nuclear waste processing company blamed a wrongly configured monitoring system, which had resulted in the bags being labelled as “general waste”, making them exempt from the usual disposal treatment process.

In appealing the fine, Sellafield argued that it was “manifestly excessive” because there had been no actual harm and a very low risk of harm. It claimed the level of fine imposed “equated with a major public disaster or loss of life, a significant nuclear event or an unmitigated environmental pollution incident” and that no credit had been given for its guilty pleas or its cooperation with regulators.

However, the court of appeal agreed with the conclusions of the crown court, which found that the incident indicated “basic management failures”, and a “deeply concerning” lack of formally established and rigorously enforced procedures to ensure equipment was properly set up and regularly checked.

“The failure was easily avoidable and could and should have been detected very quickly; there was the clearest negligence,” the judges concluded.

They also argued that the level of fine imposed a company in such circumstances should not simply reflect the level of harm, but also its turnover to provide “a real incentive to the directors and shareholders to remedy the failures that existed at the site”.

With an annual turnover of £1.6 billion, the £700,000 fine represents just 2% of Sellafield Ltd’s weekly income and less than two weeks’ profits.

Responding to the court of appeal’s decision, a spokesperson for Sellafield Ltd said: “We regret this incident and accept our responsibility for what happened. We have strengthened our procedures and must now continue our focus on the safe and secure running of the Sellafield site.”


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