Nuclear incident only avoided by eagle-eyed contractor

An anti-nuclear power station campaign has uncovered 'absolute negligence' which almost led to an airbourne radioactive leak.

The Shutdown Sizewell Campaign (SSC) reviewed the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate's (NII) decision not to prosecute owners Magnox Electric over its involvement in the Sizewell A radioactive release January 7 2007.

SSC were convinced there was more to the incident and hired London consulting engineers Large and Associates to investigate.

According to the report, released last week, radioactive release was as a direct result of a breach in the pipe work of the spent fuel pond water recirculation system resulting in the uncontrolled spillage of 40,000 gallons (180m3) of radioactive water over about 45 minutes.

The report, uncovered for the first time, that a contractor working in a laundry next to the site of the leak reported flooding - preventing a possible fuel fire and the airborne release of radioactive particles.

The fire would have started as the water uncovered spent fuel, which as it was still hot from the nuclear power process, could have resulted in the fuel fire with an off-site airborne release of highly radioactive fission product.

This scenario could have developed within 10 hours of the initial pipe failure, that is inside the 12 hour rota of the walk-through inspections of the fuel pond area in operation at the time of the incident.

Charles Barnett, chairman Shutdown Sizewell Campaign, said: "We've thought there was something fishy about the lack of prosecutions in the past.

"And, we commissioned this report showing absolute negligence."

Sizewell A, which is on the Suffolk coast closed down after 40 years of electrical generation on December 31 2006.

Sizewell B, located nearby and run by British Energy, has replaced it.

A spokesman for Magnox Electric explained the firm was the contractor responsibile for decommissioning a number of Magnox sites including Sizewell A.

He said: "The failure of the pipe was an incident which the company took extremely seriously and was one to which the site responded to immediately - as recognised by the NII in its own preliminary investigation report.

"Throughout the investigation the company co-operated fully with both the NII and the Environment Agency.

"The pipe in question formed part of the original build of the station, which at the time of the incident had ceased generation after 40 years of safely producing electricity.

"The majority of pond water was contained within the plant. The quantity that was discharged via the storm drains had a very low radiological content and would not have had any significant impact on the environment.

"It represented significantly less than 1% of the site's annual discharge limit."

A spokesman for the NII also dismissed any claims the incident could have escalated.

He said: "The NII carried out a thorough and detailed investigation into the failure of a pipe connected to the cooling pond of the Sizewell A nuclear site in January 2007.

"As a result of the investigation, NII used its regulatory powers to issue a direction to Magnox Electric to carry out a thorough review of safety, operation and maintenance.

"A direction is one of a range of legal options available to the NII to ensure that operators of nuclear sites comply with the terms of their site licence and British safety regulations.

"The direction led to a series of safety improvements being made at Sizewell A and other sites operated by Magnox Electric.

"NII is content that the licensee has taken appropriate steps to control the hazards on site."

Luke Walsh


nuclear | air quality


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