The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is highly concerned to learn of the need for the Explosive Ordinance Disposal team to attend at the Sellafield site in Cumbria after an amount of organic peroxide, which has the potential to explode, was found requiring disposal on the site. (1)
According to the UK Government media release, during a routine inspection of chemical substances stored on the Sellafield site, a small amount of organic peroxide was identified as requiring specialist disposal.
Given this chemical has the potential to explode, the Sellafield site authorities have sought support from the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team. They are apparently now in attendance at the Sellafield site in order to ensure disposal of the chemical safely.
The organic peroxide is stored at the Sellafield Magnox Reprocessing Plant, which has recently restarted after closing for a few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sellafield Ltd say the storage area is safely segregated from the nuclear operations of the plant and the risk has been identified as a conventional safety issue rather than a nuclear safety risk.
Despite that, as a precautionary measure, a controlled evacuation of the Magnox Reprocessing Plant was carried out yesterday in order to investigate the chemical and devise the appropriate course of action. The plant was non-operational at the time and it will remain so until the chemical is disposed of.
NFLA is concerned at the seeming surprise with which this material has been found. In 2018, a report by the HSE found that staff at Sellafield had failed to recognise the risks posed by out of date chemicals and had to call the EOD in then to destroy them. (1) In that incident, Sellafield Ltd said 1,000 bottles had been disposed of. Better safety procedures were instituted, but NFLA notes a similar output of having to call the EOD again has taken place just 2.5 years later.
In the October 2017 incident, it was found that a small number of solvent canisters which had been on the site since 1992, had to be destroyed by the EOD due to concerns they could become hazardous if exposed to oxygen. The 2018 report found “priority was not given to the disposal of redundant chemicals” and there was a “lack of recognition of the risk associated with their degradation”. It recommended a site-wide review of potentially hazardous chemicals and a new system for the control of inventories.
NFLA call for the HSE and the ONR to investigate this incident to see if procedures are robust enough. It remains a real concern such a dangerous material as organic peroxide is kept so close to a sensitive and important site in the Magnox Reprocessing Plant.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“I am deeply concerned that less than 3 years after the Bomb Squad was called out to the Sellafield site, they have had to return, and to such a sensitive place as the Magnox Reprocessing Site. Whilst this may not be a nuclear safety incident, the impact of an explosion could have a serious, if not catastrophic effect on the nuclear facility. I call on the HSE and the ONR to carry out an urgent review of this incident and report forthwith on it. Sellafield is one place I certainly don’t want to hear the Bomb Squad being called out to, however routine the incident was. And now twice in three years simply heightens that alarm.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) UK Government media release, 14th August 2020
(2) BBC News, 1st February 2018