Report adds ammunition to Anglo-Irish nuclear disagreement

A report detailing the reasons for a leak at Sellafield's Thorp plant in 2005 has re-opened diplomatic wounds, with the Irish government claiming it confirms its suspicions of a poor safety record.

In April 2005 workers discovered a leak from a pipe supplying highly radioactive liquid to a tank inside a shielded cell within the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) (see related story).

The report, published on the Health & Safety Executive’s website on Friday, seeks to explain how the leak happened, how it was detected and why it went unnoticed for several months.

Positioned as it is on the shore of the Irish Sea, the UK’s flagship nuclear installation has never been popular with Dublin which has repeatedly expressed concerns that Ireland would share the impact of any serious accident at the plant.

Dick Roche, Irish Environment Minister, said the report made it clear that it was time to close down Thorp, calling it ‘another chapter in the long-standing and consistently poor safety record at Sellafield’.

“This report confirms and underlines the fundamental issue of poor safety culture that was originally identified in the report published by the operator in 2005, following the leak,” he said.

“The report in addressing the fact that the leak went undetected for a period of some eight months states ‘an underlying cause was the culture within the plant that condoned the ignoring of alarms, the non-compliance with some key operating instructions and safety related equipment which was not kept in effective working order for some time, so this became the norm’.

“This statement alone captures the degree to which safety at Sellafield has been compromised”

“The pattern is that a serious incident occurs, the investigation reveals serious safety failures and

weaknesses, recommendations are drawn up and implemented, and further assurances given that the plant is safe.

“However, this pattern is untenable and the Thorp incident showed that it is time the UK took the

hard decisions necessary to bring an end to reprocessing”.

“The Irish Government’s concerns in relation to Sellafield are regularly and repeatedly conveyed to the UK Government at Ministerial and official level.

In this regard, I can also promise the Irish people that I will continue to voice their concerns about reprocessing operations at Sellafield at every possible forum”.

The report recommends 55 changes to working practices at Thorp and also discusses lessons for Sellafield and the wider nuclear industry which have been learned from the incident and subsequent investigation.

Sam Bond

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