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Saturday, 23 August 2014

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Sellafield admits sending radioactive waste to landfill site

Complacency and negligence by Sellafield Ltd resulted in bags of radioactive waste being accidentally dumped at a landfill site, a court heard.

The company sent four bags from its plant to the Lillyhall site in April 2010. All of the bags, which contained waste such as gloves, mops and rubber, were retrieved and returned to Sellafield for correct disposal.

Seven charges were brought by the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation following an investigation into “multiple failures” and the incorrect disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

Sellafield admitted the charges.

However, Eleanor Sanderson, for the company, disputed that the error was out of complacency and negligence and claimed staff work “tirelessly” to maintain safety on site.

The case was heard at West Cumbria Courthouse in Workington yesterday and sentencing will take place at Carlisle Crown Court on March 8.

Barry Berlin, for the Health Safety Executive and Environment Agency, said the error was caused by a new monitor which had passed the bags as ‘general’ waste making them exempt from strict disposal controls.

The mistake came to light when a training exercise was carried out.

An investigation was launched and it was reported that five bags containing radioactive waste had passed through undetected.

One remained at Sellafield while the other four had been transported to Lillyhall.

Further investigations showed that one of the four bags at Lillyhall had split contaminating a further five bags. Tests by the Environment Agency showed there was no contamination at the landfill.

Dr Rob Allott, nuclear regulator team leader for the agency, said: “It’s highly likely that some groups of people would have been exposed to radioactivity. The waste is inherently hazardous, but with a low risk factor.”

He said the risk to people and wildlife would have been very low.

The court heard there was further “multiples failures” regarding transportation regulations. Sellafield said a number of improvements have been made since then.

Mr Berlin added: “There is no doubt that these are welcomed changes. But because we are dealing with radioactivity we submit these should have checked beforehand.

“Complacency and negligence was apparent from the beginning from the procurement of the monitors. There was a considerable potential for harm.”

Eleanor Sanderson, for Sellafield, said the company admitted that the root cause was failings in “ordering and testing of the machine”. However, she disputed that the error was out of complacency and negligence and claimed staff work “tirelessly” to maintain safety on site.

Since the incident, changes have been made to ensure numerous checks are carried out on waste before it is disposed of.

“This was not a reckless act, it is a regrettable error, ”she added.

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