British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. Gets OK to Reopen Sellafield

LONDON, United Kingdom, December 19, 2000 (ENS) - The UK's nuclear safety authority announced today that a fuel manufacturing facility at the center of a data falsification scandal earlier this year will be allowed to reopen.

Until its closure, the the British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. facility at Sellafield in Cumbria produced mixed plutonium and uranium oxide (MOX) fuel from spent fuel rods for power firms in Europe and Japan.

Today's announcement follows a report published by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) in February. The UK's official nuclear safety authority issued damning criticisms of the Sellafield nuclear plant, undermining government plans to partially privatise the business.

Sellafield

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. Sellafield facility (Photos courtesy BNFL)
Before safety concerns prompted closure of the facility, Sellafield manufactured nuclear fuel rods, reprocessed spent nuclear fuel from nine countries, treated and stored radioactive wastes.

In its February report, the NII, part of the national health and safety agency, concluded that workers were able to falsify records on the size of MOX fuel pellets for delivery to Japan because of a "systematic management failure."

"The plant is shut down and will not be allowed to restart until we are satisfied that the recommendations in our report have been implemented, NII chief inspector Laurence Williams said in February.

The NII today accepted that 15 recommendations for new procedures at the Sellafield plant had been implemented by British Nuclear Fuels.

MOX

Manufacturing MOX pellets
BNFL's chief executive Norman Askew said today that the NII's decision was "excellent news" and that it reflects the company's "commitment and hard work" since falsification of safety information accompanying MOX fuel produced at the plant was first uncovered more than a year ago.

Asked whether the facility would start operating again soon, a BNFL spokesperson said that it would only reopen as a "small support plant" for a much larger MOX manufacturing facility.

This full scale MOX plant has been built but had not yet granted approval to open when data falsification was uncovered at the smaller one.

Environmental groups had hoped that the safety scandal and BNFL's ensuing loss of reprocessing contracts would mean that the larger MOX plant would never open.

A BNFL spokesperson said today that the company now hopes to get government approval to operate the full scale plant around mid-2001.

The Sellafield plant has long been controversial - attacked by the Irish government over radioactive emissions to the Irish Sea, by Scandinavian governments over discharges of the radioactive element technetium 99 and by environmental groups which oppose both its manufacture of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and its fuel reprocessing operations.

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