A pipe failure at the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp), part of the Sellafield complex in the UK’s Cumbria, has allowed a mixture of uranium and plutonium dissolved in nitric acid to leak into a stainless steel containment structure.

Monitoring checks at Thorp led to the discovery in the plant’s Feed Clarification Cell, which holds dissolver solution while tests are carried out, a camera subsequently picked up the pipework failure on 20 April. The cell is a totally secure environment specifically designed to withstand such failures and there were no leaks to the environment.

Managing director of British Nuclear Group, Sellafield, Barry Snelson said: “Let me reassure people that the plant is in a safe and stable state. I have asked for the front end of the plant’s reprocessing operations, including shearing, to be closed down. The plant is in a safe, quiescent state.”

Details of the failure and its causes are currently being investigated, but approximately 83m3 of liquor has been observed on the floor of the cell and engineers are putting plans together to recover the liquor and repair the pipe.

A board of inquiry has being convened and an investigation into the leak is expected to report within the next few weeks.

Nuclear opposition groups have attempted to capitalise on the development by arguing that a nuclear build programme plan widely speculated as part of the newly re-elected government’s agenda should be abandoned.

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