`Chronic problems' at nuclear plant


Investigators sent into the Dounreay nuclear plant found "many chronic safety problems", a report said yesterday. Although they discovered no immediate dangers at the site, they were critical of the plant's site operators, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

They found that the management team was so weakened that it was not in a good position to handle decommissioning at the Caithness site. The report's authors, the Health and Safety Executive together with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, made 143 recommendations at the end of the three-month inquiry and called on UKAEA to invest "considerable effort, time and resources" to make the site safe.

And they called on the UKAEA to draw up an action plan in answer to their recommendations.

The HSE and Scottish Environment Protection Agency began their audit of the management of safety at Dounreay on June 1st following an accident in May when a power cable was sliced by a digger cutting off power to the Fuel Cycle Area for 16 hours.

The report found that conditions in the Fuel Cycle Area "range from the good to the very bad. We suspect the UKAEA has been operating plants without clear knowledge of some of the risks".

Other key findings in the report include:

UKAEA is overdependent on contractors.

UKAEA does not yet have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the various forms of radio-active waste at the site, or those which will arise in the future.

HSE is concerned at the lack of progress on decommissioning.

Speaking at a press conference close to the site in Thurso, HSE's chief inspector of nuclear installations, Mr Laurence Williams, said: "The site is currently safe and the audit team found no acute safety problems."