The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph

Fuel rod found in scrapyard

By James Daley and Adam Lusher
Sunday, April 23, 2000

ALARM over Britain's nuclear safety intensified yesterday after it was revealed that a uranium fuel rod destined for a nuclear power station ended up in a scrap metal yard in Staffordshire.

The news of the discovery of the yard-long radioactive rod at Mormet Alloys in Tamworth comes after British Nuclear Fuels announced sweeping changes on Tuesday in response to lax safety procedures in delivering fuel to Sellafield. Staff had been found to be falsifying delivery data. Now, in the latest safety scare, Environment Agency officials have admitted that only the vigilance of staff at Mormet Alloys stopped the fuel rod passing unnoticed into the scrap metal chain.

From there it could have contaminated all manner of raw materials, posing grave dangers of radioactive contamination if burnt, melted or worked on. Dr David Hudson, of the Environment Agency, said: "It is serious stuff. Once the rod is lost from control it likely to end up in all manner of places. What concerns us is that things like this are not supposed to go missing. If you find one, you wonder whether there might be others."

Radioactive material has been found among scrap metal before. It was reported yesterday that a rubbish tip manager from Suffolk had been carrying a lump of depleted uranium in the back of his van for six months. The Environment Agency is now considering a criminal prosecution against whoever let the rod slip through supposedly rigid security checks and get to the scrapyard in the middle of a smart, tree-lined housing estate.

The source of the rod is not known. Scientists appointed by the Environment Agency have not ruled out the possibility that it was manufactured in Britain but they are also investigating whether it came from abroad, possibly from Eastern Europe where nuclear safety is said to be more lax. BNFL said in a statement: "Initial tests carried out by the Environment Agency indicate that it is a uranium bar and it may be several years old."

It is believed that the rod could have been lying in the yard for more than a year. It was discovered when a yard worker checking a scrap pile came across a particularly heavy metal bar and tested it with a geiger counter. Health and Safety Executive officials have carried out tests on the workforce. A spokesman said: "We do not believe that any of them have been affected."

  • The nuclear power station at Wylfa, in Anglesey, is likely to be shut down for more than a month after mystery marks in the graphite core of a reactor were spotted by a remote camera. BNFL said there were no safety risks.

    22 April 2000: Scrap metal lump in skip was uranium
    19 April 2000: Executives ousted as Sellafield tries to improve safety
    16 April 2000: Sellafield to sack 45 supervisors
    31 March 2000: Crisis could halt nuclear reprocessing at BNFL
    19 February 2000: BNFL chief determined to stay despite damning safety report