Thursday, October 25, 2001

By Alan Irving

The man brought in from the United States to head up Sellafield's Mox operations has called for West Cumbrian workers to be given a fair chance to make the plutonium recycling plant work and safeguard the site's future.

Jack Allen, a no-punches-pulled American with over 30 years experience in the nuclear industry, said: "They have been put through a tremendous mental test, now they are ready for the challenge and they deserve to see the fruits of their labours."

In an interview with The Whitehaven News, the 52-year-old from South Carolina also said he was determined to prevent any repetition of the Mox fuel data falsification scandal which led to the sacking of four Sellafield process workers and the BNFL's chief executive quitting his job, as well as putting the company's future business in jeopardy.

"Five people screwed up in MDF and it brought up a lot of issues but it was not site wide. The people here are some of the most talented I have worked with and have worked long and hard to overcome these issues.

"They have also gone through heck of a lot personally but I think it has made them stronger and more determined to do well. What they need now is to be given a fair chance to do what they've been trained to do and for this facility to produce what was expected.

"Nobody should have had to go through what these folks have endured for so long - the waiting, the training, ready and not ready with five consultation periods. What they are looking for is the spark to make things happen. The local community has come out in droves to support us and we are all determined to justify that," he said.

Mr Allen's brief is to deliver a world-class business from the 473 million Sellafield Mox plant. The plant now has the government's backing to operate but still needs Health and Safety Executive consent to introduce plutonium and may have to withstand a lengthy legal challenge from anti-nuclear groups.

Speaking in the quality control laboratory, where lessons learned from the falsification scandal have been applied, he said: "Everything has been done that we know possible in the automation of the testing, techniques and the training of folks and all of the work we are doing to prevent something like the MDF incident but I will never say never. I aim to guarantee it, it is my job and I accept responsibility but because we are dealing with people and issues, I will never say never. I am very confident and in terms of what I have seen it is the best facility to prevent things like this happening."

A key member of the laboratory staff, Steve Christian, from Cleator, said: "It won't happen up here - we will make sure it doesn't."

Boredom and repetitive work were blamed in the investigation as one of the reasons for the falsifications short cut, but the 31-year-old team leader added: "You can't be bored doing this - there is such a variety of work and the amount coming through is increasing. The last two years have been a big learning curve and I am looking forward to the challenges. The people here are very good and I have a lot of faith in them."

Meanwhile, Mr Allen has pledged straight talking with his 35-strong workforce. "This job will be anything but boring but I want to hear it the way things are. I don't just want to be told the good news and they have to discover the bad stuff. People need to hear from me the straight facts and I need to hear exactly the same from them. It is a little bit different to what they are accustomed to in the past.

"I don't pull any punches and I don't speak in codes. We can only solve problems we know about. If we are hiding them, if they are hidden in the background we are not going to be successful. That's something people have had to gain an appreciation for in terms of my frankness - making sure we understand each other and workers are not afraid to bring out issues."