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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Sellafield chief denies misleading inquiry MPs

Sellafield bosses have denied misleading a Government committee about a radiation leak which left dozens of staff cut off from their workplaces.

Tony Price photo
Tony Price

Up to 40 employees at the nuclear facility were unable to get into the vitrification plant due to dangerous levels of radiation after ventilation fans failed, it has emerged.

But Sellafield managing director Tony Price reportedly told Labour MP Meg Hillier it was “not correct” that the ventilation system wasn’t working properly after she had asked if there were any problems with the plant.

The incident was revealed during a Public Accounts Committee meeting into spending and running costs at the Sellafield site.

During the hearing, Mr Price described the vitrification plant, which converts dangerous radioactive waste into glass for safer storage, as a success.

But he failed to give details to Ms Hillier about a power cut which caused the ventilation fans to break at the plant, resulting incontamination, it was reported.

Ms Hillier said she and fellow members would decide what action needed to be taken if they found that Mr Price had misled the committee.

Sellafield yesterday denied any suggestion that the Government committee had been misled.

A spokesman said: “Tony [Price] was fully aware of the situation in the vitrification plant and the [around] 1,300 buildings and plants on the Sellafield site, and had been briefed on the latest update the morning of the hearing.

“Following the session – and before we received an inquiry from the media – we proactively notified the committee that his answer about ventilation, whilst factually correct, was not as helpful as it could possibly have been. We have subsequently – and again, before the story in the press appeared – sent a clarification note to Ms Hillier and the committee via the clerk.

“We reject in the strongest terms any suggestion that the committee was misled or that the Sellafield managing director was in anyway uninformed,” added the spokesman.

“Incidents and events at Sellafield are proactively published in our fortnightly newsletter, which is available on our website and is sent out to over 1,000 of our stakeholders, including several journalists and members of parliament.”

Copeland council leader Elaine Woodburn backed Mr Price, saying she didn’t believe the committee had been deliberately misled.

She said: “The nuclear industry will always be contentious and someone like Tony Price who has worked in it all his life maybe sees things differently to the committee. But if the committee feels it hasn’t had all the facts then quite rightly they need to question it.

“The industry is now more open and transparent than it used to be. I don’t think anyone will have deliberately hidden any information.

“Hopefully it was a simple misunderstanding that can be resolved and we can concentrate on getting the site cleaned up.”

The incident happened on November 27 when the east side of the site had “a temporary loss of power”.

“The fault was traced to a substation that feeds the Waste Vitrification Plant Line Three. Back-up electrical supplies were immediately enabled in all affected buildings, including WVP,” it said.

Power was fully restored by midday and there was ‘little impact’ on ‘the majority of buildings’. “However, in WVP Line 3, there was evidence of cross contamination in operational areas – with no abnormal contamination detected external to the building,” a log said.

“A team has been brought together to begin the task of bringing the plant back into operation. The timescales for this are still to be determined. In the meantime, a board of enquiry has been set up to investigate the cause of the fault.”

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