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Sellafield to tighten designs

Sellafield is to improve the designs for its containment following the leak of radioactive liquid in January, the Environment Agency has said.

Sellafield’s vast site reprocesses and stores spent nuclear fuel, but much of the site is undergoing decommissioning.

The leak of radioactive liquid came from a steady drip from a pipe designed to drain condensation from a ventilation duct. This dripping caused a small area within the Sellafield site to become contaminated, although there was no risk to public health, as the public has no access.

The Environment Agency has now issued an enforcement notice to Sellafield, requiring Sellafield PLC to:

  • Review and where possible improve the design of the equipment involved in the leak,
  • Improve its arrangements for supervising, inspecting and maintaining these systems,
  • Improve its arrangements for reporting incidents,
  • Put forward proposals for dealing with the contamination caused by the leak.

An initial investigation noted the use of inadequately designed and installed equipment, insufficient inspection and maintenance of equipment, and not establishing clear responsibility for managing the faulty equipment.

The Environment Agency’s nuclear regulator Stuart Page, said: “The Environment Agency expect operators of nuclear facilities to employ the highest standards in controlling their wastes.

“While this incident has not caused any harm to members of the public, or affected areas outside of the Sellafield site, the failings leading to the incident are extremely disappointing. Improvements need to be made to prevent a recurrence, and that is why we have now issued an enforcement notice.

“We will be continuing with our investigation into the incident, working in conjunction with our fellow regulators at the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, to see whether any further action needs to be taken,” he said.

The Environment Agency regulates disposals of radioactive waste from the site through a certificate of authorisation, which contains conditions with which the operator must comply. If an operator fails to comply with these conditions, the Environment Agency can take a range of actions, including requiring improvements to be made by issuing an enforcement notice.

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