N-waste ban after procedure error

Thursday, August 16, 2001

Sellafield had to impose a temporary ban on moving radioactive waste on site, towards the end of last week.

It followed failure by operators to vent a flask containing swarf, the radioactive metal which is stripped from fuel rods after they have been re-processed.

The venting, to purge gas, was not done within the four-hour period specified to prevent it building up and causing a potential explosion.

BNFL spokesman Alan Hughes said: "We were nowhere near this situation - this was more of a paperwork error."

Once the incident was discovered, movements of the swarf - a medium-level radioactive waste - from the fuel handling plant to the encapsulation plant, where the metal is encased in concrete for storage - were suspended for 24 hours until revised operating rules were put in place to prevent a repetition.

The swarf is being moved normally again and a board of inquiry is investigating the incident which BNFL class as low level.

l In BNFL's own annual Environmental, Health and Safety report, chief executive, Norman Askew, says: "The number of accidents and injuries involving our employees is now lower than the average for the chemical industry both in the UK and the United States."