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    Serious UK Nuclear Leak ‘Went Unnoticed for Nine Months’

    Serious UK Nuclear Leak ‘Went Unnoticed for Nine Months’
    By Michael Blackley
    The Scotsman UK

    Monday 30 May 2005

    Tens of thousands of litres of highly radioactive liquid has been leaking unnoticed at the UK’s nuclear reprocessing plant for nine months, it was revealed yesterday.

    The leak is being described as the worst nuclear accident in Britain for 13 years and could threaten the future of the Thorp plant, at Sellafield in Cumbria, where the leak was discovered on 19 April.

    The International Atomic Energy Authority has admitted that it would classify the accident as “serious”.

    It was only discovered that liquid was leaking last month, but by that time 83,000 litres of radioactive fuel, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, had already been accidentally discharged.

    British Nuclear Group, which runs the plant, said workers had failed to respond to indicators that would have warned since last August that there was a leak. The company has ordered an urgent review to check that there are not any other potential leaks, and is also warning against staff complacency.

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, the government quango responsible for the reprocessing plant, said that it will need time to assess the findings before discussing the implications with the government and the company.

    But if the decision is taken to close the plant, it is predicted that it would cost taxpayers billions of pounds.

    The accident will be a major setback for the government, which was preparing to seek public support for a new generation of power stations to help meet climate-change targets.

    The company says the leak was contained and thus was not a threat to public safety, but it could yet face criminal prosecution.

    A spokesman for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate told a Sunday newspaper: “I can confirm we will be seeking to find out what monitors were in place, whether they were working and, if so, why they were not acted on.”

    Four inspectors have been on site at Sellafield in Cumbria since the accident occurred, tasked with discovering why engineers failed to modify pipes leading to moveable tanks.

    The investigation is likely to last many weeks before it is decided whether to take action against the British Nuclear Group.

    It is clear that the leak will become a major political issue. David Willetts, the shadow trade secretary, said he would call on ministers to answer urgent questions on the matter when the House of Commons meets next week.

    He said the incident would have a major detrimental effect on public confidence in the nuclear industry, and the case would need to be rationally considered.

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