No prosecution over contamination leak

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

ENVIRONMENT Agency bosses have decided not to prosecute the operator of Sizewell A over an incident which saw thousands of gallons of water contaminated when radioactivity escaped into the North Sea.

The incident, in January 2007, involved the fracture of a plastic pipe in a cooling pond building where highly radioactive spent fuel rods are stored under water prior to their despatch to the Sellafield reprocessing works in Cumbria.

Thousands of gallons of contaminated water flooded the building and a significant proportion escaped into the North Sea via storm drains.

However, the total radioactivity discharged was only a fraction of the amount that the operator, Magnox South, was permitted annually to pump into the sea under an Environment Agency authorisation.

The Environment Agency, which interviewed witnesses as part of a thorough investigation, finally consulted its legal advisers because it considered there might have been an “important breach” of the authorisation - a requirement to maintain discharge systems.

However, a barrister's opinion was that the pond treatment plant was not part of the discharge systems and that, therefore, Magnox South had no duty under the Radioactive Substances Act to maintain it. That duty was under the safety requirements enforced by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

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