Inspectors discovered ‘many chronic safety problems’ at the Dounreay nuclear site in northern Scotland during an audit three months ago, it was revealed this week.
A joint audit by the Health & Safety Executive and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency cast serious doubts on the competence of the UK Atomic Energy Authority to operate the site.
The inspecting team’s report was particularly critical of conditions in the fuel-cycle area where the HSE has halted all operations until further notice which it described in some instances as ‘very bad’.
While it said the area posed no imminent danger, it added: ‘It is suspected that UKAEA has been operating plants without clear knowledge of some of the risks’.
At the launch of the audit team’s report on Tuesday, Laurence Williams, the HSE’s chief inspector of nuclear installations, said: ‘It is evident that UKAEA needs to invest much effort, time and resources to bring Dounreay up to the standards HSE requires for operation of a nuclear installation.’
The HSE’s concerns included overdependence on contractors for ‘key functions’, failure to develop a strategy for dealing with radioactive waste at the site and lack of progress on decommissioning.
The long overdue audit of the management of safety at Dounreay was finally launched following an incident at the plant in May, when a mechanical digger ruptured an electrical cable and cut off power supplies to the fuel-cycle area for 12 hours.
Many of its criticisms echoed those in a 1997 memorandum from a site inspector, which was only published in June this year.
The audit report made 143 recommendations, and the HSE will ask the UKAEA to prepare a comprehensive action plan of response, including estimates of the necessary resources, by 30 November.