19 July 2001 Edition

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BNFL cover up

British Nuclear Fuels are in the dock yet again over not just misinformation about an accident at one of their facilities, but a delay in disclosing that an accident had even taken place.

What BNFL describe as a ``routine refueling operation'' on 5 July went wrong when 24 nuclear fuel rods were dropped at BNF's Chapelcross plant in Scotland. Initially BNFL reported that the rods had been dropped 2ft onto the floor of the facility. Then it was admitted the drop was 50 feet.

On Monday 16 July BNFL admitted that the fuel rods had not just been dropped a distance of 80ft, but that 12 were lost after falling down a discharge chute. It had been thought that the other three Chapelcross reactors would have to be shut down to enable staff to find the missing fuel rods.

Yesterday BNFL claimed they had located the rods and would not now have to shut down the rest of the Chapelcross reactors. BNFL did not explain why it took them ten days to disclose the accident, which they classified as Level 1 on the international scale. This is the lowest classified level.

Greenpeace has attacked the BNFL claim, asking how they know there has been no radioactive discharges until all the fuels rods are found and examined. Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan also criticised BNFL, saying it was clear that the culture of secrecy and misinformation exposed in 1999 when the company was found to have falsified safety data still persists.

``BNFL's promises of `a full inquiry into this event to ensure that lessons can be learned and improvements made' rings hollow,'' said Morgan. ``The Irish people living on the Eastern coast are in daily fear of a major nuclear incident in Britain. The only response we want from the British nuclear industry is a date for shutting down their unsafe facilities.''

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