Staff cuts leave Sizewell plant without safety back-up expert

British Energy has no specialist back-up staff to deal with a serious accident at its Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk, a critical safety audit has revealed. In a draft report, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) said the absence of such an expert in the company’s technical support division was `an omission which is […]

British Energy has no specialist back-up staff to deal with a serious accident at its Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk, a critical safety audit has revealed.

In a draft report, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) said the absence of such an expert in the company’s technical support division was `an omission which is not acceptable’.

An accident at Sizewell B in March led to the loss of 20 tonnes of liquid coolant from the reactor’s primary circuit. The plant’s safety systems dealt with the incident, but the NII’s disclosure will do little to allay mounting local concerns about the plant’s safety.

The NII’s report warned that staff cuts had left British Energy’s level of in-house expertise on pressurised water reactors `at the minimum to provide sustainable support’.

The regulator also criticised the company for the priorities it appeared to have instilled in its staff, and for expecting them to work excessive overtime – it found that a 22-person unit that works on structural integrity analysis had racked up 90 `staff years’ in the space of a single calendar year.

`We encountered a widespread attitude that issues which could endanger output were top priority, while it was acceptable to delay less immediate safety work.’

The NII recommended British Energy should stop any planned further reductions in manpower – a confidential draft document indicates it plans to shed 300 more full-time staff over the next five years – until it can demonstrate such a move will not `adversely affect the safety of nuclear plants’.

British Energy said the report was a draft document `meant for discussion’ which did not take into account measures introduced to address issues raised by the NII. Chief executive Peter Hollins insisted safety is still the company’s first priority.