£400k fine for nuclear operator

Nuclear power station operator Magnox has received the biggest environmental fine in the UK for almost a decade following years of leaks from one of its plants in Essex.

The prosecution was brought by the Environment Agency and Magnox was found guilty of three charges of failing to carry out inspections of a holding tank at Bradwell Power Station in Southminster.

The tank had been leaking radioactive waste for a number of years, with no proper maintenance taking place between 1993 and February 2004, when the problem was discovered.

Magnox maintains that all the contamination took place between 1988 and 1990, but an Environment Agency expert told the court that scum marks on the wall of the sump indicated that leakage occurred over many years.

Magnox was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £150,000.

The EA says the fine, the highest of its kind since early 2000, sends ‘a clear message to the nuclear industry that we require the highest standards of operation at all such sites and will take firm action’.

It says the problem went unnoticed for so long because standard tests it carried out monthly beyond the boundaries of the Magnox site showed no signs of pollution, and that there was no threat to the environment or general public in its vicinity.

The leak was discovered when Magnox employees were cleaning sludge from the sump and the company reported it to the authorities as soon as it became aware of the issue.

Prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, Mark Harris told the court that prior to the clearing work, no inspection of the sump had been carried out and no tests had been undertaken to check the integrity of the sump.

He said liquid leaked onto the ground because of a combination of poor original design when the sump was modified in 1976 and the lack of any routine inspection and maintenance afterwards until the leak was discovered.

According to the former site manager, Raymond Jepps, no routine maintenance or inspection would have been undertaken on the sump before February 2004 but it now was.

Sam Bond

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