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Safety fears of secret nuclear fuel plant at Rolls Royce factory

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(October 29, 1999) Serious safety concerns were raised recently by regulators about "command and control" procedures at a Rolls Royce plant in Derby which secretly manufactures enriched-uranium fuel for nuclear submarines.

(520.5104) WISE Amsterdam - Until the recently leaked reports were published in October 17 issue of the The Sunday Times, Rolls Royce said its Raynesway plant, in Derby (central England), just made propulsion systems for nuclear submarines. It has not admitted the uranium fuel work it does for the Ministry of Defense nor has the local population been told because the work is classified. Rolls Royce also operates the HMS Vulcan facility adjacent to Dounreay (Scotland) which is a submarine reactor test facility.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII, the government body overseeing the civil nuclear industry) strongly criticized safety at the plant and warned that emergency procedures were inadequate. After the accident in Japan, which involved similar fuel, workers at the plant contacted the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and voiced concerns about the offsite emergency plants and the lack of containment in the event of a serious accident at the fuel plant. Leaked company documents reveal that there is a risk of criticality, an uncontrolled chain reaction which took place at Tokai-mura on Septemer 30.

The company said procedures had been changed since the regulator's report and there had been three practice exercises. A full emergency exercise had also been held recently. The regulators said various issues had been raised after an exercise in March and everything was "entirely in order" following the latest exercise.

CND called for the closure of the plant (which was commissioned in 1994-5), stating that the uranium used at Derby was 93% enriched compared to 20 percent (18.8 to be precise) enrichment of the fuel in the Tokai-mura accident. Defense minister Geoff Hoon rejected these calls, saying all concerns had been addressed by the company and that the plant was "entirely safe".

Local residents regularly see lorries entering the site under armed escort but have been unaware of the processing of bomb- grade uranium. The plant, which employs 1,900 people, has not lodged a public emergency plan with the county council and residents have not been given information about what actions to take in the event of a nuclear accident.

This is the second of three scandals in the UK regarding the (civil and military) nuclear industry in just over two months. First was the falsification of safety checks of MOX fuel elements and a week after this one, The Observer published an internal memo on safety flaws at Aldermaston (see related artcicle).


  • The Sunday Times, 17 October
  • Reuters, 18 October
  • N-Base Briefing, 23 October 1999

Contact: CND, 162 Holloway Road, London N7 8DQ, UK.
Tel: +44-171-700 2393; Fax: +44-171-700 2357