Having pleaded guilty at Workington Magistrates Court, Workington earlier this year to a range of charges brought by the Environment Agency (EA) and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Sellafield Ltd was today fined £700,000 at Carlisle Crown Court.
Handing down the fine for the offences caused by what he described as ‘basic management failures that demonstrated a culture too lax and, to a degree, too complacent’, Judge Peter Hughes said ‘that such a mistake should occur in an industry that needs to be managed with scrupulous care for the public and the environment is bound to be a matter of great concern for everyone, particularly the people of Cumbria’.
The offences related to the sending of 4 bags of Low Level Waste (LLW – 1 bag containing material in the Intermediate Level Waste range) to the Lillyhall landfill site at Workington on 12th April 2010. The delivered bags had been incorrectly classified as general ‘exempt’ waste by faulty monitoring equipment at Sellafield rather than LLW which should have been sent to the LLW facility at Drigg. The mistake was only discovered by chance following a training exercise on the faulty equipment 20th April, and the bags containing various materials collected from within controlled areas of the Sellafield site eventually recovered from the Lillyhall landfill site between 22nd and 29th April and dispatched to Drigg.
During their disposal at Lillyhall, one of the bags had broken open and its contents scattered amongst other wastes. Though subsequent tests by the Environment Agency showed no residual contamination from the bags at the landfill site, an Agency spokesman said ‘it is highly likely that some groups of people would have been exposed to radioactivity – the waste is inherently hazardous, but with a low risk factor’.
The charges brought against Sellafield Ltd by the EA and ONR included a failure to comply with the rules for the transport of radioactive material, the unauthorised disposal of radioactive material at Lillyhall, the failure to comply with or contravention of environmental permits, thus breaching the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, The radioactive Substances Act 1993 and The Carriage of Dangerous Goods And Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009.
The Lillyyhall landfill site at Workington is operated by Waste Recycling Group (WRG) who received a permit to receive and dispose of High Volume – Very Low Level Waste (HV-VLLW – a sub-category of the higher activity LLW) by the Environment Agency in April 2011. HV-VLLW is defined as having a maximum radioactivity level of 4Megabequerels (MBq) per tonne (or a concentration limit for tritium of 40MBq per tonne).
Today’s Crown Court fine is the largest ever imposed on Sellafield. Owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), site operations are managed under contract to the NDA by Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), a consortium of French company Areva, US company URS and British company AMEC. After the hearing, when asked about making an appeal, a Sellafield spokesman said they would have to consider the impact and take advice.