British Energy challenges leaked safety report

27 August 1999

United Kingdom British Energy, which operates the UK’s advanced gas-cooled reactors and the PWR at Sizewell, has challenged claims in a draft report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) that staff cuts since the company was privatised 1996 risk reducing safety levels.

The report was leaked to the UK Sunday Times, which raised concerns that staff levels at Sizewell had been reduced to such an extent that there would be no one qualified to deal with a “severe accident” at the plant.

British Energy dismissed this claim as “nonsense”. Mark Whittet, a spokesman for the company, pointed out that it is a licensing requirement to maintain the resources necessary to deal with emergency situations and emphasised both that the report is still in its draft stage and that it focuses not on staffing levels at specific plant but on technical support staff.

“The draft report does not take into account at this stage the various measures we have in place to deal with the issues the findings raise,” said Mike Low, managing director of British Energy Generation.

“I am entirely confident that once the NII have completed the validation process the report will be far more balanced. However if the NII identifies areas where it considers further improvements in the area of technical support would be beneficial, British Energy will make the necessary changes,” he said.

The NII issued a statement following the leak, emphasising the provisional nature of the draft report. The NII said: “The Health and Safety Executive’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is carrying out an audit of British Energy’s staff reduction programme as part of its on-going regulation.

“The draft report referred to in the article is a working document meant for discussion with British Energy and it is not the finished article. The safety of nuclear power stations is of paramount importance and we in NII have to look to the future, detect safety trends and anticipate declining safety standards. We cannot afford to wait until it is too late.

“Current stations are operating within acceptable safety cases — this audit was done to see how staffing reductions were affecting the ability of British Energy to maintain their safety standards into the future.” The NII will publish the report before the end of 1999.

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