English waste, Irish sea

BNFL has been slapped on the wrists over its failure to properly maintain pipelines at its Sellafield plant that are used to discharge low level radioactive waste into the Irish Sea.

The UK Environment Agency has served an enforcement notice on the BNFL site at Sellafield over its failure to properly maintain pipelines used to discharge low level radioactive waste from the site into the Irish Sea.

The enforcement notice follows an incident earlier this year when two pieces of rubber gasket, contaminated with radioactivity, were found by BNFL during routine surveys of local beaches. It was later discovered that both sections had become detached from the seaward end of one of the operational pipelines used by the company.

Both gaskets were discovered separately during routine BNFL checks of the Sellafield and Seascale beaches in January and February. Subsequent tests revealed that the radiation levels of both items were found to be low, thus presenting little potential hazard to the public. However they were confirmed as being above the agreed reporting levels.

The notice was issued because of BNFL’s failure to comply with a condition of their authorisation granted to them by the Environment Agency to dispose of low level radioactive waste at their Sellafield site in Cumbria.

The authorisation allows BNFL to discharge radioactively contaminated water from the site via pipelines into the Irish Sea. However, a key condition of the permit requires BNFL to maintain and keep in good repair the systems used for the discharge of any radioactive waste.

“Although the risks to the public on this occasion were low, this type of incident is both undesirable and preventable. That is why we have issued the enforcement notice,” said Andy Mayall, the Environment Agency’s Nuclear Regulator.

“This will require BNFL to undertake a thorough review of its inspection and maintenance of the discharge pipelines and to make any required improvements,” he added.

The Agency will also need a review to be undertaken of the company’s pipeline design, with all work to be completed within an agreed timescale.

“The Agency expects high standards to be applied on any site authorised to discharge wastes under the 1993 Radioactive Substances Act, and we trust the work BNFL will now undertake will prevent an incident like this happening again,” Mayall concluded.