Sellafield Ltd fined £700k over radioactive waste failings

17th June 2013

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The company running the UK's largest nuclear facility has been fined £700,000 after "basic management failures" resulted in low-level radioactive waste being sent to landfill

Sellafield Limited was ordered to pay the fine, plus more than £72,000 in costs, by Carlisle Crown Court after the firm admitted it did not have adequate management systems in place when waste from controlled areas of its site was mistakenly sent to landfill.

In April 2010, it was discovered that four bags of low-level radioactive waste, including plastic, paper, clothing, wood and metal, had been sent to the Lillyhall landfill site in Workington.

According to the firm, a wrongly configured monitoring system resulted in the bags being labeled as “general waste”, making them exempt from the usual disposal treatment process.

Judge Peter Hughes said the mistakes were the result of “basic management failures” and criticised a lack of procedures to check monitoring equipment.

“This prosecution arises out of the discovery, by chance, that bags of radioactive waste had been wrongly classified as exempt waste and allowed to leave Sellafield and to be transported to a landfill site and deposited there,” he said.

“That such a basic mistake could possibly occur in what needs to be an industry managed and operated with scrupulous care for public safety and the environment is bound to be a matter of grave concern.”

He fined the firm £700,000 for seven environment and safety offences, including multiple breaches of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 and the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010, and one offence under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The heavy fine was passed despite the waste being retrieved and disposed of correctly, and confirmation from the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation that no contamination has resulted from the waste being sent to landfill.

Speaking after the sentencing, Ian Parker, nuclear regulation manager for the agency, said: “While this incident did not lead to any significant harm being caused to the public or to the environment, the failings by Sellafield Ltd that led to the incident were serious and we consider that on this occasion, it fell well short of the high standards which we expect.

“For us, the most important thing is that Sellafield Ltd has learnt the lessons from this and put improvements in place to minimise the chances of this type of incident happening again.”

A statement from the company, which has held an ISO 14001 certification since 1997, said it regretted the incident and had suspended the disposal of waste from the site until it had identified and corrected the error.

“Following the event, before waste operations were re-introduced on the site additional monitoring measures were put in place to prevent an incident of this type happening again,” confirmed the statement. “Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority at Sellafield.”

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