Probe call after Dounreay fire causes tritium leak

Dounreay nuclear power station. Picture: PA
Dounreay nuclear power station. Picture: PA
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ENVIRONMENTALISTS have called for a thorough review after a fire at the Dounreay nuclear plant in the Scottish Highlands resulted in a release of radioactivity into the environment.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) has admitted “procedural non-compliances and behavioural practices” by staff led to the incident on

7 October.

Trace amounts of tritium were released, but the operators say it did not pose a risk to the public. No-one at the plant was hurt in the incident.

The Caithness site’s fire brigade extinguished the blaze in the prototype fast reactor “sodium tank farm” within 30 minutes.

Managing director Mark Rouse said DSRL had been served with an improvement notice by the nuclear industry’s regulators. He said: “Our investigation identified unacceptable behaviours and practices that fell well short of our values and standards.

“It is important to take the time to ensure as many lessons are learned from this incident as possible.

“We are determined to improve our behaviours and compliance to ensure that we always meet the high standards expected on a nuclear site.”

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks called for a review, adding: “Thankfully, no one was injured in this incident. However, that the fire resulted in the release of radioactive material is deeply worrying and calls into question the processes currently in place to protect people and the environment.

“There needs to be a thorough review of procedures to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.

“This incident again highlights the hazardous and expensive problem of dealing with the radioactive legacy of the nuclear industry.

“Anyone who thinks that nuclear power has a role to play in our energy future needs to seriously think again.”

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The reactor ceased operating in 1994 and is more than halfway through a process of being decommissioned.

More than 1,500 tonnes of sodium, a material used when the reactor was in operation, has been safely destroyed so far.

The fire occurred in a building where tanks are used to store sodium.

The incident happened on the same day that a blaze broke out on a ship transporting radioactive waste from Dounreay to Belgium.

The blaze started in one of the MV Parida’s two funnels on the night of 7 October.

It lost power and started drifting towards an oil platform in the Moray Firth. Fifty-two people on the rig were evacuated as a precaution.

Following repairs, the ship was able to resume its journey.

Yesterday, a spokesman for DSRL said: “We continued to monitor the situation and the area was kept under surveillance, until the residues from the fire were cleared up.

“The NDA [Nuclear Decommissioning Authority] and the regulators were informed and an investigation was convened. A brief was also posted on our website, based on our understanding at that time.

“The initial investigation confirmed the probable mechanism for the initiation of the fire and concluded radioactivity may have been released, via an unauthorised route.”

SEE ALSO

• Dounreay rundown delayed by a ‘number of years’

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