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No. 13/2000

18 February 2000

The following is from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM):


A new safety culture is urgently needed at the Sellafield nuclear plant, British trade unions insisted today.

Britain's official Health and Safety Executive this morning released three highly critical reports on safety at Sellafield, which is run by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL).

"The time has come for all at Sellafield to accept a collective responsibility," commented Jack Dromey, spokesman for the BNFL industrial trade unions. "We must build a new world-class safety culture, rooting out the remaining vestiges of the old discredited culture of complacency.

"A failure to act will threaten the very future of the 20,000-strong company," Dromey said. "The reports are a devastating indictment and utterly unacceptable."

Dromey is National Organiser at Britain's T&G union. Trade unions at Sellafield include the AEEU, GMB, MSF, T&G and UCATT.

The three inspectorate reports examine various aspects of the Sellafield operation, notably the falsification of quality control data on some batches of uranium and plutonium mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel. These nuclear fuels are reprocessed at Sellafield for a number of clients. The main overseas customer is Japan, whose nuclear plants have stopped using the Mox as a fuel since the false documentation was first discovered last year. The inspectorate says Sellafield's Mox facility, now out of operation, will not be allowed to reopen until a number of changes have been made. These include new monitoring equipment; retraining of workers - several of whom were sacked over the incidents; and big improvements in Sellafield's supervision and management.

Another of the reports draws three conclusions about safety at Sellafield: "The first is that there is a lack of a high quality safety management system across the site which is compounded by an overly complex management structure. The second is that there are insufficient resources to implement even the existing safety management system. The third is a lack of an effective independent inspection, auditing and review system within BNFL. Without a vigorous independent inspection, auditing and review system, the Health and Safety Executive does not see how BNFL can make acceptable and timely progress in delivering a high quality safety management system across the site."

The reports are "a bitter blow to all those who have worked hard over many years, to challenge old complacency and put in place, in 1999, the building-blocks for a bright future for BNFL," Dromey said. "The unions drove through the most radical pay and change agreement anywhere in the economy for ten years. This was designed to deliver world-class working practices, and end the Sellafield culture of long working hours. The unions also backed the proposed Public/Private Partnership, essential to introducing new commercial and management disciplines.

"But old habits at Sellafield die hard," Dromey stated. "The company must bear the brunt of the blame for the fragmentation of the management and irresponsible cuts to manning levels."

"Finger-pointing, buck-passing and alibi-seeking would be wrong," Dromey insisted. "There is a collective responsibility for what has gone wrong. The workers at Sellafield are determined to play their part in putting that right. The unions fully support the company's recovery plan (launched today). Combined with the unions' commitment to the proposed Public/Private Partnership, this represents the best hope for a strong future for Sellafield and BNFL."


Individual ICEM UPDATE items can be supplied in other languages on request.

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Editor: Ian Graham, Information Officer

Publisher: Fred Higgs, General Secretary.


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