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More accidents at Sellafield

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(February 6, 1998) The BNFL has confirmed that on January 28, 1998, 13 workers were evacuated from building B209 when alarms activated after a polythene package containing a plutonium-contaminated filter was damaged. Two workers must now undergo scanning tests to ascertain levels of internal and external radiation exposure.

(486.4820) CORE - Part of building B209 has been completely sealed off. In its initial report of the accident, via the Sellafield Newsletter, the BNFL assured that a controlled re-entry of the building had been undertaken and that work to clean up the area would begin shortly. However the company has confirmed that only on February 2, five days after the incident, will a proper entry of the building be made and an assessment taken of what action is required to clean up the contamination.

The incident has provisionally been classified as Level 1 at the IAEA International Nuclear Event Scale (INES). B209 was built in the 1950s for plutonium product finishing operations, but ceased operations several years ago and is now subject to decommissioning. It is physically connected to B299 which still operates for similar plutonium operations. In a 1996 report by government agencies HSE/HMIP of waste management practices at Sellafield, the BNFL was criticized for its "poor housekeeping" of B209, particularly the external storage of radioactive wastes around the building. A photograph of the outside of the building highlights large plutonium-contaminated items poorly stored in a compound, the out- of-date radiation hazard signs, and inadequate barriers.

A second accident occurred on January 23 in the B205 Magnox Reprocessing Plant when a liter of nitric acid leaked onto the floor of the operation area following a blockage of the tube used to feed irradiated fuel to the dissolver. No damage to the plant or to the personnel has been reported. The accident has been classified as INES Level 1.

On January 15, in a breach of a specified maintenance schedule, the BNFL failed to carry out tests on two emergency diesel generators at Calder Hall (at the same site). This is also classified on the INES scale as Level 1.

These three incidents follow four others--a leak of Sulphur 35 from a boiler tube in a heat-exchanger at Calder Hall on January 4, 1998, the accidental release of low-level liquid waste into the Irish Sea on December 23, 1997, the failure of a cross-site pneumatic pipe system on January 3, 1998, and the derailment of wagons on a nuclear flask train at Harwich on January 8, 1998. In an earlier accident at the vitrification plant on November 9, 1997, the continuing release of Ruthenium from a duct leading from the plant to the chimney has now been stopped.

Source: CORE Briefing 2/98, 2 February 1998
Contact: Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), 98 Church Street
Barrow in furness, Cumbria LA14 2HT, United Kingdom.
Tel: +44-1229-8833851