Whitehaven News

The Whitehaven News


Thursday, April 12, 2001

Sellafield bosses were fined a total of £12,000 last Thursday for breaches of safety regulations.

BNFL and subsidiary company BNFL Instruments both admitted failing to register radioactive sources, which are used to test alarm systems and in X-rays.

The Environment Agency brought the prosecution at Whitehaven Magistrates court after an investigation at the plant last year.

One source was even discovered in a dead employee's drawer at the plant, the court was told.

Nick Webb, prosecuting, said the radioactive sources have to be registered with the Agency if the radiation levels are above a certain level, or if the sources are moved from Sellafield.

The registration takes place so the Agency can monitor the sources, some of which contain uranium and plutonium, for any leaks or danger to health.

Mr Webb said: "The agency can carry out inspections or controls to ensure they are being used and stored and conditions are being properly complied with.

"Clearly any loss of control of such substances does have a potential for significant impact on human health and the environment."

The BNFL "collection" was among the largest inventories of radioactive mobile apparatus held anywhere in the UK.

BNFL admitted two charges of failing to register sources between January 1997 and December 2000 at Sellafield and Drigg and failing to register keeping or using radioactive material at Ramsden Dock, in Barrow, between March 1987 and September 2000.

BNFL Instruments admitted failing to register radioactive sources at a storage depot leased to it by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, within the Sellafield perimeter.

Andrew Carr, representing both companies, said: "It is a bitter blow to be back in court.

"BNFL failed to meet its own high standards."

The company has 10 previous convictions for environmental offences in the last 10 years, although non-registration was not among them.

Mr Carr said that Sellafield managers had been co-operative throughout the investigation and provided all the necessary documents. BNFL had notified the Environment agency itself when bosses realised there was a breach of regulations.

He also said that although BNFL was in breach of the Agency's regulations, the Sellafield rules for the handling of the sources had been followed and there was no risk to human health or to the environment.

Presiding magistrate, Bill Townson, said: "We do regard these offences as serious.

"The public has the right to expect the highest standards of control of the radioactive materials in their custody."

BNFL was fined £8,000 and its subsidiary £4,000. £10,010 prosecution costs were to be shared between them.

After the hearing a spokesman said: "The company regrets these incidents, which clearly should not have occurred. Our guilty plea on all three charges reflects this.

"The sources have always been safely stored and controlled, in accordance with the Ionising Radiation regulations."

Mr Webb said after the case: "On balance the fine was fair."