UK operator fined £400,000 for 14-year leak

18 February 2009

Magnox has been fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £150,000 in costs for over 14 years of radioactive leaks at the former Bradwell nuclear power station in Southminister, Essex.

Judge Peter Fenn passed the sentence at Chelmsford Crown Court, 11 days after Magnox Electric Ltd (formerly Nuclear Electric Plc) was found guilty by jury of three offences of failing to carry out any inspections of a holding tank that had been leaking liquid radioactive waste since 1990.

The company was also sentenced for two offences to which it had earlier pleaded guilty. The offences were failing to maintain plant, namely, a sump – a type of holding tank – in the decontamination bay at the site during two periods between January 1993 and 4 February 2004, when the leak was discovered.

The court heard that the breaches came to light because of a voluntary disclosure by Magnox to the Nuclear Regulation Group (NRG) of the Environment Agency and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2004.

Staff working to clear sludge from the sump realised that when full of water, levels in the sump fell and when empty, the sump was backfilling by a couple of inches a day. A pump was immediately brought in and all liquid and sludge carefully removed from the sump.

The Environment Agency prosecution told the court that prior to the work to clear sludge, no inspection of the sump had been carried out and no tests had been undertaken to check the integrity of the sump. The agency, which monitors the environment outside the site’s boundaries every month said that over the period of the leak no pollution was detected and that the leak "did not cause any risk to local people or the environment."

"Magnox Electric Ltd maintained that all the contamination took place between 1988 and 1990, but an Environment Agency expert stated that scum marks on the wall of the sump indicated that leakage occurred over many years.

Team Leader of the Environment Agency’s Nuclear Regulation Group, Phil Heaton, said: ‘"This fine sends a clear message to the nuclear industry that we require the highest standards of operation at all such sites and will take firm action - even if the environment beyond a site’s boundaries is not affected.”

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