BBC’s investigative news programme, Panorama, has revealed what it referred to as ‘safety concerns’ at the Sellafield nuclear power plant in northwest England.
The programme’s main criticisms centred on what were claimed to be inadequate staffing levels and poor practice in the storage of radioactive materials.
A former senior manager of the complex had prompted the investigation. The anonymous whistle-blower explained that his biggest fear was a fire in one of the nuclear waste silos or one of the processing plants and said: “If there is a fire there it could generate a plume of radiological waste that will go across Western Europe.”
Panorama found parts of Sellafield in a rundown state and in addition claimed radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles.
Sellafield’s management have rejected the programmes claims and pointed to significant investment in recent years.
Figures obtained by Panorama show that between July 2012 and July 2013 there were 97 incidents where parts of the site had too few workers on shift.
Dr Rex Strong, head of nuclear safety at Sellafield, denied that operating below these levels was dangerous. “You make alternative arrangements, so the things that have to be done get done. Facilities are shut down if we’re not able to operate them in the way that we want to.”
With regard to the issue of inadequate storage of materials, Dr Strong added, “The organisation is now focusing on putting right some underinvestment of the past in order to support the hazard and waste reduction mission that the site has.”
Sellafield later said in a statement that plutonium and uranium samples are “kept securely” and that “to imply that such material is inappropriately managed is simply not true”.
World Nuclear Association’s Communication Manager David Hess was unhappy at the depiction of the facility on the programme, believing some media bias at play on the part of the BBC.
If the nature of the discussion wasn’t inflamed enough, let’s distract with ‘minimum staffing levels’ and ‘plastic bottles’— David Hess (@6point626) September 6, 2016