Nuclear company fined £100,000 after “poor management” leads to radioactive waste leaks

A judge has fined Magnox Electric plc £100,000 plus £28,000 costs after the company pleaded guilty to six offences relating to unauthorised discharges of radioactive waste from its nuclear power stations at Bradwell in Essex and Hinkley Point A in Bridgwater, Somerset.

The case, decided at Taunton Crown Court on 1 June, was brought by the Environment Agency after an in-depth investigation by its inspectors uncovered maintenance problems with the filters in the liquid effluent clean-up facilities at both stations led to unauthorised discharges of low level radioactive waste to the environment.

Problems came to light at Bradwell in August 1999 when information from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate triggered a joint inspection with the Environment Agency into operations at the plant. Inspectors found problems with filters in the liquid effluent discharge system had led to an unauthorised release of low-level radioactive sand into Blackwater Estuary on 2 August 1999. Five days later, during attempts by Magnox, which is part of BNFL, to overcome its filter problem, a further unauthorised discharge was made. Magnox Electric then failed to inform the Environment Agency about either of these events, the Agency says, as they are required to do under the conditions of the current authorisation.

Just over one month later, the Environment Agency was alerted by Magnox that during checks it had instigated as a result of the Bradwell filter failure, a fault had been identified in a filter system at its Hinkley Point A Power Station and that consequently radioactive particles may have been discharged into the Bristol Channel. Subsequent investigations by Agency inspectors revealed that the company had failed to maintain the filter system, but that there were no abnormal levels of radioactivity detected.

Magnox was fined £10,000 for the unauthorised discharge of radioactive waste from Bradwell Power Station and £20,000 for the discharge from Hinkley Point A as well as £60,000 for two offences of failing to maintain its systems in a good state of repair and £10,000 for two offences of failing to inform the Environment Agency of the unauthorised radioactive waste discharges at Bradwell.

“We are very disappointed that such unacceptable failures have occurred at both Bradwell and Hinkley Point A and consider that this points to failure of management systems,” said Jim Gray the EA’s head of radioactive substances regulation. “Although no environmental detriment or harm to the public can be demonstrated, the events should not have happened at all. We will not hesitate to take enforcement action in such circumstances.”

A spokesperson for Magnox Electric plc told edie that the company regretted its delay in reporting the discharges, but that there had been “no significant reason” for this. “Since both incidents, we have carried out a detailed review of all of our effluent plants,” Colin Bennett said. “This has led to improved training for staff, replaced filters and associated valves and pipeworks and we have installed additional stages of infiltration and an increased frequency of inspections.”

The EA has just completed a major public consultation on new authorisations for Magnox power stations, which would include tighter controls on management competence and supervision.

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