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UK’s Sellafield takes first steps to prepare for phased restart of highest priority work

01 May 2020

Sellafield Ltd, the UK’s nuclear waste site, is making “cautious” first steps to restart some of the highest priority work. Having successfully ‘ramped down’ operations at the site by pausing reprocessing work and construction work on major projects, Sellafield has built confidence in its ability for key workers to begin some of the most important high hazard and risk reduction work again.

The Sellafield site - Image: UK Gov
The Sellafield site - Image: UK Gov

Since the Covid-19 pandemic escalated, the number of people working on the Sellafield site has been less than a fifth of ‘normal’ operations, with approximately 1,500 key workers still going to work on site.

By agreeing a small number of packages of work which can start again, it will add approximately 120 people to this number, with a further circa 120 people starting to attend off-site offices mainly in Warrington to access specialist equipment and software. It will be a cautious, limited, phased restart of work over the coming weeks using ‘lead and learn’ principles on specific work packages to build understanding on helping people safely return to work.

Detailed risk assessments have determined how many people can safely work in every location being used, taking into account factors such as social distancing, PPE requirements, operational procedures and a huge range of other considerations around people being able to get to work safely and stay safe and comfortable once there.

Reprocessing operations are still paused, but we are preparing to start work on reducing some of our highest hazards. A small amount of construction work will be beginning on BEPPS-DIF, a new facility needed to accept waste from one of Sellafield’s highest hazard legacy waste silos. 

All of the work can also all be stopped quickly if necessary, for example if a second wave of Covid-19 impacts on the availability of key workers.

The decision has been taken to begin phasing in new work while the national lockdown continues because on the balance of risk, it’s the safest thing to do. Thousands of other Sellafield Ltd employees will continue with their existing arrangements of working remotely where possible.

“We have always said we will only progressively restart certain operations when safe to do so. The excellent preparation and risk analysis work we have done so far has given us the confidence to be able to restart the most important work which is of national interest. Safety is in our DNA. If any organisation can work safely around Covid-19, we can,” said Sellafield Ltd’s Chief Executive Martin Chown.

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