BNFL has satisfactorily addressed data falsification problems

All problems associated with the data falsification scandal at British Nuclear Fuel’s Sellafield plant have now been satisfactorily addressed, says the Health and Safety Executive’s nuclear arm, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).

In February last year, the NII published three reports into the activities at Sellafield, particularly criticising the management practices at the site (see related story), which allowed the falsification of quality control data (see related story). The NII has now published a follow-up report on Sellafield’s progress so far, saying that “overall, we are encouraged by the vigour and commitment that BNFL has given to addressing issues raised by all three reports”, and that all their recommendations associated with the data falsification report have been “satisfactorily addressed”.

Following the second report, regarding management practices at the site, the BNFL board has been restructured, and the Sellafield site management has been reorganised to provide a single individual who is responsible for operations and safety of the site. There is greater clarity of roles, with staffing increased, including the appointment of advisors ensuring ‘conscious compliance’.

However, experience has shown that formal compliance of recommendations is taking longer than envisaged due to both the time needed for implementation and for evidence to be provided, says the NII report. Because of this, BNFL has now been asked to review its plans for all the outstanding team inspection recommendations.

All 22 recommendations in the third report, regarding the storage of high level waste, have also been responded to satisfactorily, says the NII.

“When we formulated our response to these reports a year ago, it was clear to me that we were facing one of the biggest projects ever undertaken at Sellafield. I gave my personal commitment that every single recommendation would be met, and I am delighted to see that the progress to date has been recognised by the HSE,” said Brian Watson, BNFL Director of Operations.

“In particular, it is a credit to the immense dedication of all of our employees and the continuing support of the trade unions and the local community that HSE have reported that they are ‘encouraged by the vigour and commitment’ that we have given to addressing these issues,” Watson added.

Improvements to control and supervision were always going to be the greatest challenge, said Watson. BNFL is now ten months into a 30 month programme of improvements agreed with the HSE, said Watson, pointing out that the HSE has found evidence that “management and workforce are determined to ensure that the improved systems are effectively implemented”. “We have moved forward, but we are only part of the way there,” said Watson. “I am determined to keep up the pace of change that we began last year.”

“What must be remembered is the sheer scale of this work programme and the necessary time to allow HSE to be satisfied that changes have been implemented and are embedded within our ways of working,” he added.

The environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, however, sees the report in a different light, describing it as “a shocking indictment of Sellafield’s continuing safety crisis”, stressing concern over the delay in implementation, and pointing out that BNFL has so far failed to fully implement 25 of the 28 safety recommendations made by the NII.

“When it comes to safety and the environment, Sellafield is a disaster zone,” said Greenpeace spokesperson, Dr Helen Wallace, “Dangerous near-misses and dodgy practices continue unabated. Official assurances are bland and meaningless, in the light of the appalling safety record on the site.”

In the last few weeks alone, says Greenpeace, ministers have received an emergency brief concerning the build-up of explosive gases in the building housing high-level liquid nuclear waste, and the Environment Agency has announced a second prosecution for BNFL’s failure to keep track of its radioactive sources.

“BNFL’s future business should be in the responsible management and clean-up of our existing legacy of nuclear waste. It should not be clinging to the dirty, dangerous practices of nuclear reprocessing and the plutonium trade”, said Wallace.

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