Workers at the Dounreay nuclear reactor have been contaminated by radiation as the result of an incident in the waste handling plant at the facility.
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) informed the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) at 18:15 on November 12 that the incident had occurred at 09:15 that morning.
The SEPA is responsible for regulating the disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear sites and other premises such as industrial, hospital and research premises under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993.
Twenty-one workers had detectable levels of radioactive contamination on protective clothing and two of these had skin contamination, one on their hands and face and the other on their hands.
The UKAEA has carried out preliminary measurements on ventilation equipment which indicates that no release of radioactivity to the atmosphere occurred.
For its part, the SEPA has sent a member of staff from its Radioactive Substances Unit to the Dounreay site to monitor the situation and to provide reassurance that the environment is protected.
Scottish National Party (SNP) Leader John Swinney was upset by the news.
‘This is a matter of enormous concern. Dounreay already has an appalling safety record and this incident comes against a background of leaks and safety problems. There must now be full disclosure of how this worrying failure in safety procedures was allowed to happen. We must be told the full circumstances that surround this incident and particularly how radioactive particles were allowed to come into contact with workers’ skin.’
Chris Kaufman, national secretary of the T&G, said urgent questions needed to be addressed to allay fears. He continued to pose the question about whether the fragmentation of the operations on site, which has led to a number of employers taking various responsibilities, has led to a lack of centrally controlled management direction. Speaking yesterday he said, ‘An investigation by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is required. The T&G believes the focus should be on whether or not there was proper management control in place and whether or not there are sufficient people employed to ensure safety standards are met.’
The Dounreay site was opened in 1955 and three reactors were built over the following twenty years – the Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR), Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) and the Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR). All are now closed and being decommissioned. The Dounreay Site Restoration Plan is expected to take 50-60 years to complete and cost in the region of £4 billion.