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New Safety Doubts over Sellafield Thorp Plant due to Design Faults and Operating Errors 30 June 2005

    A British Nuclear Group report into the recent leak of highly radioactive material at the Sellafield THORP plant, has confirmed Isle of Man Government’s long held suspicion, that operational safety at Sellafield was always vulnerable to mechanical faults and inevitable human error. Isle of Man Government believes that the Board of Inquiry report, just published, casts doubt on the original safety case for operating THORP. This is due to the uncertainties over design faults in plant equipment, metal fatigue in pipe-work and the now admitted vulnerability of the plant’s control instrumentation to human error.

    Isle of Man Government has already informed the UK Government’s Department of Constitutional Affairs of its concern, and believes the THORP plant should be permanently closed as a result of the serious incident, first discovered on 19th April 2005.

    The internal inquiry report states that unknown to the THORP plant’s operators, highly radioactive material had been leaking from cracked pipe-work into a containment cell for many months possibly since August 2004. Fortunately, a secondary containment vessel at the THORP plant prevented any escape of radioactivity and so there was no off-site impact. The outcome reveals a worrying degree of complacency in the safety procedures. A separate report from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is now awaited, before the full safety implications for any future operations at the THORP plant will be known.

    Environment Minister, John Rimington MHK, commenting on publication of British Nuclear Group’s internal Board of Inquiry report said:

    ‘Some of the statements made in this report really do undermine confidence in the operational safety of the THORP plant. Metal fatigue and equipment breakdown must occur to some extent in every industrial activity. However with THORP, it seems too great a reliance has been placed on rigorous checks on instruments and monitoring equipment to keep the plant safe – there is always the potential for human error and in my opinion the risk of an accident is too great to justify the claimed economic benefits of nuclear fuel reprocessing at Sellafield.’

    30th June 2005

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