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100 safety issues revealed at UK’s most hazardous nuclear site

Urgent action on safety concerns at Sellafield needed, says GMB union
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

Following an investigation that revealed significant safety concerns at the UK’s most hazardous nuclear site, the GMB trade union has called for “urgent action” to address concerns at Sellafield.

Earlier in December, a list of over 100 safety issues was uncovered, including:

  • a worsening leak from a huge silo of radioactive waste
  • no functioning alarms in parts of the site that contain radioactive materials
  • work stoppages due to a lack of suitably qualified staff trained in nuclear safety
  • increasing numbers of contamination and radiation protection incidents

Citing these concerns and an alleged recent cyberattack on Sellafield, GMB national secretary Andy Prendergast has written to the energy minister, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield’s chief executive.

Mr Prendergast says the union, which represents tens of thousands of workers across the energy industry, is “deeply concerned” by these reports. The union is demanding greater investment into keeping the 11,000 employees at the 2 square mile nuclear rubbish dump in Cumbria safe:

“GMB has repeatedly raised concerns over safety and staffing levels, which are mainly due to turnover and the age and demographic of the workforce,” Prendergast wrote.

The letter was addressed to Claire Coutinho, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Sellafield’s chief executive, Euan Hutton, and the NDA chief, David Peattie. Mr Peattie responded in a letter to Mr Prendergast:

“I can assure you that there is no compromise to public safety, and no complacency when it comes to addressing requisite improvements to cyber security and site safety and ensuring a zero-tolerance approach toward bullying and harassment of staff.”

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A spokesman for Sellafield said:

“Safety is our overriding priority at Sellafield. We are proud of our safety record and we are always striving to improve.

“Our chief executive officer Euan Hutton has worked closely and collaboratively with our site-based trades unions, including GMB, throughout his tenure.

“None of the issues detailed in this letter have been raised during this engagement in the terms described.

A spokesperson for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “The energy security secretary wrote to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and spoke with both their CEO and the regulator, who provided assurances there have been no successful cyber-attacks at Sellafield. She has also requested regular updates on work to improve cyber-security and tackle workplace culture concerns.”

Sellafield is a nuclear decommissioning and waste facility, handling the remains of decades of atomic power generation and nuclear weapons programmes. It was originally named Windscale, manufacturing plutonium for the Cold War arms race when Britain was trying to build an atomic bomb.

It was also the site of one of Europe’s worst nuclear disasters in 1957, as a reactor fire carried a plume of toxic smoke across to the continent. Although news of the fire was suppressed at the time, it was later estimated that it caused over 100 cancer fatalities over a period of 40-50 years.

Presently, it is reported that radioactive liquid from a decaying silo on the Sellafield site is leaking into the ground, and will likely continue to 2050.

Visit BrAInbox today for answers to questions on radiation risks, like What are the risks to your health from radon?

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