Sellafield pleads guilty over nuclear waste

Nuclear waste processor Sellafield has pleaded guilty for sending low-level radioactive waste to landfill by mistake, regulators said yesterday. The news comes in the wake of Cumbria County Council’s controversial […]

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By Vicky Ellis

Nuclear waste processor Sellafield has pleaded guilty for sending low-level radioactive waste to landfill by mistake, regulators said yesterday.

The news comes in the wake of Cumbria County Council’s controversial decision to reject plans for a new nuclear waste processing plant in the region.

Sellafield Ltd pleaded guilty at Workington Magistrates’ Court yesterday after four bags of waste were wrongly sent to the Lillyhall landfill site in Workington. The firm is responsible for cleaning up nuclear fuel at the decommissioned Calder Hall power plant in Cumbria.

The bags which held mixed general waste, such as plastic, paper, tissues, clothing, wood and metal (such as those pictured), were from controlled areas of the nuclear site. They should have been sent to the Low Level Waste Repository at Drigg in Cumbria, a specialist facility which treats and stores low level radioactive waste. All the bags were retrieved and treated properly while regulators say no contamination was left on the landfill equipment.

Sellafield found the error was caused by a new monitor which had passed the bags as ‘general’ waste making them exempt from strict disposal controls.

The UK’s nuclear regulators the Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation are taking action over the incident which happened in April 2010.

Ian Parker, Nuclear Regulation Manager for the Environment Agency said: “We have carried out a thorough investigation in partnership with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and have already required Sellafield Ltd to take action to ensure this does not happen again.”

Ian Barlow from the Office for Nuclear Regulation added: “Where necessary, we will use enforcement action to protect people and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry.”

Sellafield confirmed it had pleaded guilty on seven charges but a spokesperson told ELN they could not comment further as it was an ongoing case. The case will be heard by the Crown Court in March after the Magistrates decided they did not have enough powers to rule on the outcome yesterday.