The Scot-Government has called for urgent action to end nuclear bungles at the decommissioned Dounreay site in Caithness after a fire broke out last month in storage tanks containing radio-active wastes from the prototype fast reactor – first developed more than 50 years ago in the Cold War era.
The Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) sodium tank farm houses four tanks that contain sodium residues from the operation of the reactor.
On October 6, following operations in the PFR sodium tank farm to remove the residue sodium from a redundant tank, the tank was left overnight under surveillance.
In the early hours of October 7, the on-site Dounreay fire brigade was alerted by an alarm from the tank farm. About the same time, an operator undertaking surveillance heard banging noises and saw smoke, and also called the on-site fire brigade.
The fire brigade arrived promptly and quickly extinguished the fire. The area was monitored by the fire brigade until it was deemed that there was a low probability of re-ignition. We continued to monitor the situation and the area was kept under surveillance, until the residues from the fire were cleared up.
The initial on-site investigation confirmed the probable mechanism for the initiation of the fire and concluded radioactivity may have been released, via an unauthorised route.
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Having noted the outcome of the Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) investigation and subsequent enforcement notice issued by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), Scottish Ministers find these results extremely concerning.
“It has been identified that procedural non-compliances and behavioural practices were factors in the fire incident last month. This is simply unacceptable and must end immediately.
“Scottish Ministers expect Dounreay to work closely with UK regulators to ensure that improvements are put in place to prevent incidents like this happening in the future.
“We also expect the ONR to ensure continuing tight regulation going forward so that DSRL are left in no doubt about the need to ensure they have complete compliance and a behavioural culture which is 100% safety focused, 100% of the time.
“Scottish Government officials will be meeting with Dounreay senior management shortly to discuss the issue and find out what measures they are putting in place to address regulators’ concerns.”
Dounreay decommissioning boss, Mark Rouse, Director, DSRL, said: “Our investigation identified unacceptable behaviours and practices that fell well short of our values and standards.”