Friday, October 27, 2006

Sellafield Fined £500,000 over Olympic Pool "Leak"!

I have mentioned in previous postings that the company BNG Sellafield Limited has been fined £500,000 plus legal costs of over £67,000 following their guilty plea of breaching health and safety regulations, following a radioactive leak from a pipe at its THORP facility (Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant). As noted before, the leak had occurred during a period of nine months, disgorging a total volume sufficient to fill an "olympic swimming pool". The discharge consisted of nitric acid in which was dissolved 20 tonnes of uranium and 160 kilos of plutonium. Although this material was highly radioactive, it remained contained in a sealed "cell" and so no radioactive material escaped into the environment. No one was hurt. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought the prosecution following the discovery of the leak in April 2005. It was alleged that Sellafield breached three conditions attached to the Sellafield license, to which the company pleaded guilty at a hearing before Whitehaven Magistrates Court on June the 8th 2006.
This latest fine is additional to the £2 million fine levied on BNG Sellafield in August by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority over the same incident. This fine was imposed in the form of deductions from money that the Authority pays Sellafield.

After the hearing at Carlisle Crown Court, Dr. Mike Weightman, the HSE's Director of Nuclear Safety and HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, commented:

"Our extensive investigation into the events in THORP has shown that British Nuclear Group Sellafield Limited fell significantly short of the required standards for a considerable period of time before the leak was discovered. Although we stress that there is no evidence of any harm to workers or the public, the leak being contained within a stainless steel lined, heavily shielded cell, there had been a significant prolonged reduction in attention to the high standards demanded, something we are not prepared to tolerate.

"THORP was Sellafield's flagship plant and built to high standards. It must also be operated, maintained and managed to the high standards we insist on, and the public have a right to expect from the nuclear industry.

"For the wider nuclear industry, our message is clear: high standards are demanded of the nuclear industry, this means continued vigilance and close attention to maintaining all the multiple physical and administrative barriers put in place to protect people and society from highly radioactive material.

"It is not acceptable to allow any of these barriers to degrade and weaken, relying on the existence of other barriers to secure continued protection. Industry must continue to embrace high standards of design, construction, operation and maintenance and vigorously strive to maintain them at all times."


MCrab said...

Hi Chris,

You keep posting these nuclear stories but there's not much comment accompanying them. What conclusion do you draw from them, Chris? What conclusions to you wish your readers to draw?

Come on, this is a blog. Tell us what you reall think. :)


Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi Martin,

aw, who doesn't like a nice juicy "nuclear" story? They are entertaining at least! Not wishing to sway debate one way or the other, I just present the facts, so my "readers" can draw their own conclusions.

But, if you're asking, what do I really think about nuclear, O.K., here goes. I don't believe there is any immediate way to substitute total current energy entirely by renewables, if ever. That may just mean we need to buy some more time to develop them, and nuclear could help with that, or indeed it could become a major source of energy for hundreds of years, using breeder technology based on uranium or thorium. Whatever final energy mix we will end up with I think society will become less energy voracious, with localised enterprises taking centre stage.
We live in interesting times, and ideally some form of "paced" transition would eliminate an awful lot of suffering, rather than going to war over resources or doing nothing until economic "brick walls" are hit - cars abandoned by roadsides, cites left derelict, mass exodus' of populations etc., i.e. full blown Mad Max chaos. I hope that a point of resolution will be reached soon, while there is still enough slack to take up the strain.

That would be my manifesto!


MCrab said...

Hi Chris,

Acutally, after reading this comment and the one on the other thread, I think you have a pretty balanced view of nuclear power. It's not perfect, but it beats being having no energy.

As you say, the long term hope would be to move to thorium breeders, giving us for all intents and purposes a renewable resource. However, in the shorter term current generation light water reactors can lessen our dependence on gas and have few proliferation concerns.

You seem to believe that peak oil is imminent or, indeed, has already occured. This is certainly what the pessimists think and is the majority opinion on any peak oil website. It is worth baring in mind, however, that these same voices have been saying 'peak oil now!' for decades. While it doesn't mean they're wrong this time it does warrant a certain amount of scepticism.

The optimists by contrast contend that peak oil won't hit until we're all very old. The truth may be either or somewhere inbetween. The peak might be today, but could be followed by a bumpy plateau or long decline. Certainly if unconventional sources of oil can be ramped up this will make the down slope more comfortable.

As I have previously posted, it is my contention that the best solution to peak oil is to move via hybrids and PHEVs towards fully electrified personal transport. This would remove the need for liquid fuels for all but aviation, allowing us to use the still abundant reserves of uranium and coal (and possibly gas in the form of methyl hydrates) along with renewables to power more efficient electric engines.

I think the current puritanism over aviation is overstated. It may use a lot of fuel, but it is of immense value to humanity. I stated a few posts ago that there were many things I would give up before I relinquished my car. I'd lose it in a heartbeat, though, if it meant the continuation of airtravel. If we can cut the cord between liquid fuels and automobiles then remaining oil supplies (both conventional and non-conventional) would be sufficient to power our planes for decades if not centuries. Add in jet fuel produced from coal and the current infrastructure could be maintained almost indefinitely; always assuming, of course, that a better technology is not developed.

My manifesto for the future would be that we can live much as we do now - i.e. the way we really want to - we just have to learn to do things in different, more efficient and better ways. And the sooner we start the better.

I suppose you and I disagree on what the world will look like a few decades hence, but we agree that we must start changing now and fast. I find cause for optimism in that.