Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Sellafield is splashing out 600,000 on some of the most powerful fire-fighting machinery in the world to help combat any possible terrorist missile attack on the sensitive nuclear site.

With government security services backing, BNFL's Board of Directors has committed itself to the big outlay following an all-embracing safety review. Intensified security and safety arrangements have been No I priority since last September's New York Word Trade Centre catastrophe.

Sellafield now awaits delivery of two huge airport-type crash tenders capable of tackling the major conflagration which would be caused by a jet crashing or missiles being fired on to the site.

They cost 300,000 apiece, weigh 26 tons and are topped by massive cannon, spraying out an incredible 100,000 litres of foam in just two minutes. Each one is the equivalent in capacity of at least a dozen normal fire-fighting appliances which can take two minutes just to get the foam ready for dispersal.

Sellafield has been served by two Dennis fire engines, backed by an incident support unit dealing with chemical spillages, but the new tenders are equipped to put out fires of disaster proportions. To cover any potential immediate threat, the site has just taken delivery of one which is second hand. The two brand new models are on order but could take months to come.

Nothing remotely like the giant tenders exist in Cumbria but are in place at airports where they can chase and spray burning planes with blankets of the suffocating foam as well as well as flooding runways.

Sellafield's new chief fire officer Rick Lanigan said: "The acquisition of this new equipment will improve the site's already impressive fire fighting capability. It will allow our fire fighting services to deal with some of the most intense fires and accident scenarios imaginable. These tenders are equipped with foam compounds carrying something like 10,000 litres of water and once mixed together they disperse 100,000 litres of produced foam in a couple of minutes."

Under his command, Mr Lanigan, who is on a two-year secondment from Cumbria Fire Service, has a total of 64 fulltime fire fighters spread across five watches on round-the-clock cover. They are among the most highly trained in Britain are also capable of administering on the spot emergency medical treatment.

Chairman of the Sellafield Local Liaison emergency planning sub-committee John Henney said: "All this has come out of the recent security review. It is very welcome and more reassuring. Obviously 600,000 is a lot of money but at the end of the day you can't put a price on it. I have been in some of the discussions with BNFL over increased security, some bits I know about and others I don't because it is national security."

Brian Watson, Sellafield's director of operations, recently told councillors: "We have to be absolutely prepared for all measures resulting in emergency requirements. We are actively reviewing arrangements and have been since September 11 to be sure we have everything possible in place to prevent damage to plants which could lead to the release of radioactivity.

"There are some things I am not able to give answers to for obvious reasons. I do not want to make life easier for people who perpetrate terrorist acts."