Dounray Nuclear Plant Fire led to ‘Unauthorised’ Radioactivity Release


    A fire at the Dounreay nuclear plant in the north of Scotland resulted in an “unauthorised” release of radioactivity, an investigation has found.

    The nuclear plant has been censured by safety regulators after admitting human error led to the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

    The criticism comes just weeks after another nuclear plant, Sellafield in Cumbria, was also tackled by the safety regulator over its management of asbestos while pictures emerged of badly corroded storage ponds there.

    Environmentalists said the problems highlighted dangers from building a new generation of nuclear plants which however well designed would be vulnerable to human fallibility.

    Staff at Dounreay were blamed in a report prepared for the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) of “procedural non-compliances and behavioural practices” that led to a fire on 7 October.

    The ONR has served an “improvement notice” on Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) requiring a raft of changes to ensure there is no repeat of the accident in which traces of tritium – a radioactive type of hydrogen – escaped into the environment. Refusal to comply with the notice could eventually lead to prosecution, it said.

    A DSRL statement said the trace amounts of leaked tritium did not pose a health risk to local members of the public.

    The blaze started in the Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR), which houses four tanks that contain residual sodium from the reactors operations. Up until the accident, over 1,500 tons of waste sodium had been destroyed safely.

    DSRL, controlled by a consortium involving the engineering group Babcock, is involved in a £1.6bn contract to dismantle Dounreay, a prototype “fast reactor” built to experiment with nuclear fission in the 1950s and 60s.

    The company said a safety improvement plan was in place and work would not restart at the tank building until ONR was satisfied with the changes. The reactor stopped operating in 1994 and is more than halfway through decommissioning.


Collated by Philip Turnbull






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