Safety & Environmental Failings at Dounreay

Significant concerns have been raised by the Scottish Government over issues of safety and environmental failings at Dounreay. Urgent action to address these has been called for by  the Environment Secretary in the Scottish Government, Roseanna Cunningham.

The publishing of  the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Annual Report and Accounts 2016 to 2017  has highlighted a number of safety issues. The NDA is tasked with the clean up and decommission of 17 of the UK’s oldest nuclear sites which includes Dounreay.

In a letter to Richard  Harrington, Conservative MP for Watford and  Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) in the UK Government Ms Cunningham said:

“The NDA is jointly responsible to UK and Scottish Ministers for its plans in Scotland. However, it is the UK Government, through BEIS and UKGI that sets the detailed financial and management performance framework for the NDA, and provides them with their funding.”

“I would like to raise concerns that I have about performance at the Dounreay site, and seek your assurance that in its role as the lead sponsor of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the UK Government is giving sufficient attention to Dounreay.”

“There continues to be cause for concern in Dounreay’s environmental performance, with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) having to take action. In addition, the recently published NDA annual report presented in stark terms the lack of progress at Dounreay across a wide range of projects. While I am aware that the exotics movement programme has been a priority, this is still a disappointing state of affairs, and sits oddly with the planned reduction in workforce at Dounreay.”

“Local stakeholders have told me that they cannot understand why the current substantial voluntary redundancy programme is in place where there is still so much work to complete on the site.”

The NDA states:

“Our role is strategic: we establish the overall approach, allocate budgets, set targets and monitor progress. We do not have a hands-on role in cleaning up our facilities. Instead, we deliver our mission through others, primarily Site Licence Companies (SLCs).”

£3.2 billion has been spent this year alone on the complex task of decommissioning the  UK’s old nuclear facilities. The cost of running the NDA itself was stable at just under £40 million.  60 % of spend was at the largest, most complex site, Sellafield in Cumbria. There was also a pay out of  £100 million in legal and settlement costs arising from the litigation over the placing of the Magnox contract. This is now the subject of an independent inquiry

The NDA report states that at the  Dounreay Fast Reactor a 10-year programme  has concluded. Toxic sodium potassium alloy used to cool the reactor has been destroyed. Alongside this, the last of the higher activity liquid, generated by reprocessing the reactor fuel, has been grouted into drums for safe long-term storage.

The Board of the NDA remain concerned at the number of safety issues which can be found here.

At Dounreay they include:

  • Operators failed to comply with operational limits for radioactive materials in waste packages destined for disposal in a LLW vault.
  • Dropping of a contaminated glovebox resulted in a release of radioactive contamination. Analysis showed that the release breached the ionising radiation regulations. The operators received no dose, and there was no environmental impact. 

Roseanna Cunningham stated:

“It is vital that there is continued momentum in the safe and effective clean up at Dounreay.  The people of the North of Scotland deserve nothing less.”


John at the English language Wikipedia

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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