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Company fined for exposing workers to radiation

07 December 2009

Sellafield, Britain's biggest nuclear complex, was fined £75,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of health and safety law after two contractors inhaled radioactive contamination. The prosecution follows an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into an incident on 11 July 2007 at Sellafield Nuclear Licensed Site in Cumbria.

£75,000 fine after contractors inhale radioactive contamination
£75,000 fine after contractors inhale radioactive contamination

Sellafield pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of £26,100 at Carlisle Crown Court.
The incident happened while removing radioactive contamination from an area of concrete floor in a room formerly used to sort and monitor material contaminated with plutonium.

A patch of concrete floor – believed to be contaminated with radiation from spillage some years ago – was being drilled prior to being removed.

Two contractors were drilling an area of the floor, under Sellafield’s supervision, when they were contaminated with plutonium by the dust produced from the drilling, some of which they inhaled. There was no immediate impact on their health, but they received a significant radiation dose below annual dose limits.

The two workers were monitored, undressed and removed from the enclosure. One contractor had widespread contamination on his PVC suit and while he was undressing two radiation air monitors outside the enclosed area were triggered. The enclosure was later found to be heavily contaminated.

Mark Bassett, HSE’s Superintending Nuclear Inspector, said: "Although the radiation doses in this case were below the statutory dose limits, they could potentially have been higher. They should have been zero. The incident highlights the importance of Sellafield Ltd following its own arrangements for protecting workers, when undertaking potentially hazardous work with the risk of exposure to radiation. Sellafield should have properly assessed those risks, and then appropriately planned, organised and carried out the work.

"We are satisfied that Sellafield is taking the appropriate measures to improve both its arrangements and to ensure they are carried out properly. We will continue to monitor closely to ensure that these are implemented."

In the past Sellafield has been fined up to £500,000 for more serious safety lapses and the HSE recently warned that the chances of a major incident were still too high.

The successful prosecution of Sellafield by the Health and Safety Executive will tarnish the reputation of an industry trying to win public confidence for a new generation of power plants.

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