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Part of Sellafield site evacuated after discovery of potentially explosive chemicals

17 August 2020

On August 14, part of the Sellafield site was evacuated after a “small quantity” of organic peroxide was discovered during a routine inspection of the Magnox Reprocessing Plant. Organic peroxide can become explosive if not stored at the correct temperature.

Image: UK gov
Image: UK gov

Sellafield, the UK’s nuclear decommissioning site, is located on the coast of Cumbria, north west England. In a statement, Sellafield said that in line with established procedures, support was requested from Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) after the chemical was discovered. The EOD team was able to safely dispose of the chemical package a few hours after the site was evacuated.
Sellafield said that the organic peroxide, a chemical used routinely in industry, had been in safe storage, as part of its programme to identify and dispose of historic chemicals on site. During a routine investigation on August 13, it was noted that the chemical had changed state.
The organic peroxide was stored in the Magnox plant’s storage area which is segregated from the nuclear operations of the plant. Sellafield said the risk was identified as a conventional safety issue rather than a nuclear safety risk. The discovery of the “small quantity” of chemicals led to a precautionary evacuation of the Magnox Reprocessing Plant which was non-operational at the time. 
The Magnox plant began a controlled permanent shutdown earlier this year. The statement from Sellafield said, “As ever, our priority remains the protection of our workforce, community and the environment."
The BBC reports that a 2018 report highlighted a similar incident where explosive disposal experts were called to the Sellafield site and found staff had failed to recognise the risks posed by out of date chemicals.

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