Sunday 20 May 2018

TDs say Sellafield plant is 'a disaster waiting to happen'

The Sellafield Nuclear Plant in Cumbria. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
The Sellafield Nuclear Plant in Cumbria. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Government has sought an urgent meeting with the UK agency that liaises with Ireland on nuclear matters following the BBC investigation into safety concerns at the Sellafield plant.

While the plant's bosses have insisted it is operating safely, TDs in Louth have said that the claims on the 'Panorama' documentary are "frightening" and that the facility is "a disaster waiting to happen".

The programme reported claims that radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles and parts of the plant have been operating with too few staff.

A 'Whistleblower' said his "biggest fear" was a fire that could lead to a "plume of radioactive waste that will go across Western Europe".

Environment Minister Denis Naughten met with senior officials who sit on the UK-Ireland Group on Radiological Matters yesterday to discuss the issue.

"Sellafield is an on-going concern for Minister Denis Naughten and the Irish Government," an Environment Department spokeswoman said.

Mr Naughten told his officials to contact their UK counterparts to seek a meeting with them "as early as possible".

The UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy agreed to the request.

The Environment spokeswoman said that Irish technical experts visited the plant in April 2015.

"The Minister received an assurance from his officials that they are satisfied with the level of disclosures that they continually receive from the Sellafield operator and UK Government officials," she added.

Mr Naughten has sought a detailed report on the incidents referred to in the 'Panorama' broadcast ahead of the full UK-Ireland Group meeting.

Fine Gael Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd described the claims in the broadcast as "frightening" and said that the claim that radioactive material was stored in plastic bottles is "unacceptable".

He has written to the Environment Minister requesting that he seek a meeting with his British counterpart to discuss the matter.

Fianna Fáil's Declan Breathnach pointed out that the Cumbrian plant is just 170km from Ireland and described Sellafield as "a disaster waiting to happen".

"The UK government needs to answer why the inspection regime failed to pick up on this litany of safety breaches," he added.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called on the Government to demand the closure of the plant saying: "Louth is in the front line of any threat posed by Sellafield."

Sellafield said there have been fewer breaches of safe minimum manning levels since 97 incidents were identified between July 2012 and July 2013 and that the latest figures are a breach on average once a week.

Dr Rex Strong, the head of nuclear safety at Sellafield, denied that operating below these levels was dangerous.

Sellafield said plutonium and uranium samples are "kept securely" and that "to imply that such material is inappropriately managed is simply not true".

"Safety is our priority and we are managing a very complex site which has got a great deal of hazardous radioactive materials on it," Mr Strong also said.

Irish Independent

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