HC Deb 31 July 1981 vol 9 cc576-7W
Mr. Mudd

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what communication the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has had with the French nuclear regulatory authorities concerning the fires which occurred at the Cap De La Hague fuel reprocessing plant on 13 April 1980 and 6 January 1981; and whether the inspectorate has considered the relevance of these fires to operations at British Nuclear Fuels Sellafield works.

Mr. Norman Lamont

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has held discussions with the French Nuclear Regulatory Authorities [Service Centrale De Surete Des Installations Nucleaires (SCSIN)] concerning both fires, to see what safety lessons were to be learned. The first fire, on 15 April 1980, damaged equipment in the main electricity distribution centre at the site with the result that electrical supplies to the site, both from the French grid and the main standby generating plant on the site, could not be distributed to the process plants for a period of 15 hours. Electrical supplies to the important plants were restored within 45 minutes by the connection of mobile generators held in reserve for such contingencies. There was no detectable release of radioactive material from the site during the event and no one on or off the site suffered exposure to ionising radiations. SCSIN has informed the inspectorate that the damaged distribution centre has been rebuilt to a new design which ensures that no single outbreak of fire should cause a loss of normal electrical services.

I am informed by the inspectorate that at Sellafield, formerly Windscale, the security of electrical supplies, which is already of a high standard, is being further improved by a programme of work which has been in progress for the past three years and is now close to completion. The inspectorate considers that it is extremely unlikely that a fire at Sellafield could result in the consequences experienced at the La Hague plant.

The second fire at La Hague occurred on 6 January 1981, in a silo which is used to store radioactive debris generated during the dismantling of irradiated Magnox fuel elements. The materials are stored dry and the silo had recently received a consignment of radioactive waste materials. It is believed that these had ignited and the relatively small fire which ensued had led to an escape of radioactivity which caused some minor contamination to persons and property on site. One person, a painter working in the silo ventilation room at the time, received a radiation dose a little in excess of the annual maximum permitted level. No reports have been made of any significant off-site effects.

I am informed by the inspectorate that only one building at Sellafield is used as a dry store for irradiated fuel element waste, including some irradiated uranium. Because this building has not received fresh consignments of waste for 17 years, it is considered that the conditions which probably caused the La Hague fire are unlikely to exist in the Sellafield store. Nevertheless, fire detection and fire fighting arrangements which already exist in the Sellafield building are being improved by BNFL in the light of the French experience and of discussions with the NII.