MANAGEMENT OF Scotland's troubled Dounreay nuclear facility is so weak, and the plant so riddled with 'chronic' safety problems, that site staff are ill equipped to continue decommissioning the complex, claims a damning report by the Health & Safety Executive released this week.
Inspectors have given staff just three months to implement over 140 key recommendations, and draw up an action plan, before the plant is allowed to continue with either spent fuel reprocessing or decommissioning some 40 structures, including three nuclear reactors.
The three week surprise investigation by 15 inspectors from HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate revealed that operator, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, had devolved so much site responsibility to contractors that its knowledge of safety risks in some areas was now 'suspect'.
'We are looking for a culture change,' said NII's chief inspector Laurence Williams. 'It is UKAEA as the licensee which needs to satisfy itself that work is being done properly. It must take ownership rather than attempting to do the minimum necessary.'
As well as three aged and experimental fast breeder reactors, Dounreay operates reprocessing facilities for both its own and imported nuclear fuel. The site also contains a 65m-deep shaft full of dumped low level nuclear waste (NCE 25 June).
The condition of some plant remains questionable, and three months ago the government ordered the closure and phased decommissioning of all structures. This latest in a series of scathing safety reports follows the total loss of power to a key area after a contractor severed an underground cable last May.
The report also accuses UKAEA of having no real strategy for dealing with nuclear waste, of allowing substantial delays in decommissioning and of serious under-investment in safety.
The authority adds that some redundant structures have been left 'severely contaminated with radioactivity and with little attempt made to clean them out'.