Panorama’s exposure last night of Sellafield safety failings, run-down infrastructure and under-staffing will rightly have shocked many national viewers but will not have come as such a surprise to locals and groups such as CORE who routinely monitor the site’s activities.
Whilst many of the problems exposed – not for the first time – may owe their origins to the ‘bad old days’ and have been quietly festering for decades, the blame lies squarely with today’s owners and operators and their inability – despite the £Billions of taxpayer money pumped into site – to rectify what Panorama described as the most ‘basic mistakes’. Many of the failures are inexcusable – under-staffing of emergency and some operational services as a prime example – and the complacent and unconvincing explanations offered to Panorama by Sellafield, NDA and ONR were less than reassuring, smacked of familiarity breeding contempt and done nothing to boost public confidence in the site’s safety.
The gravity of the programme’s revelations could be measured days in advance of its showing by Sellafield Ltd’s attempts at damage limitation last week through the unprecedented quizzing of CORE and other ‘suspects’ of their involvement with the programme makers. CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood commented today:
‘Rather than looking for scapegoats for the ‘intolerable’ state of the site, dismissing the whistle-blower as a disgruntled ex-manager (and no doubt the American NMP interviewees as suffering from sour grapes after recently being stripped of their clean-up contract) we would all be better served by Sellafield concentrating on its own somewhat obvious inadequacies and ongoing failures as exposed by Panorama rather than playing the blame game’.
The greatest irony is that last week’s trailer for the programme coincided with the visit to Sellafield of the new energy Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe who, true to Ministerial form was busy extolling the site’s performance and safety culture at the very time that major safety and staffing issues were about to be blown wide open publicly on TV. There is little surprise at a Minister arriving at Sellafield poorly briefed by his or her Department, but there is a major concern that the Government and others are routinely and deliberately kept in the dark about the true extent of the site’s problems – or ‘misleading parliament’ as Panorama put it in relation to an earlier accident at Sellafield’s Waste Vitrification Plant.