HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc356-7W
Lady Hermon

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the incident involving rods being taken out of the reactor core at Sellafield on 8 February. [40077]

Mr. Wilson

[holding answer 4 March 2002]: The four reactors at BNFL's Calder Hall power station have been shut down for a prolonged period while BNFL undertakes work to review the safety of defuelling activities at the station. This follows the incident that occurred at the Chapelcross power station (which is similar in design to Calder Hall) where the grab on the hoist inside the defuelling machine failed causing the basket to detach from the hoist and some fuel rods to fall down the discharge well into a water filled fuel transport flask at the bottom of the well.

In accordance with the requirements of the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), BNFL is currently carrying out work to recommission the fuel discharge route for the four reactors at the Calder Hall power station. This is part of the planned return to service of the reactors. The recommissioning process provides for particularly careful oversight of these operations in order to ensure that no problems arise as a result of any plant modifications that may have been made during the shutdown.

With NII's agreement, BNFL started to carry out some defuelling of Reactor I at Calder Hall as part of that recommissioning process. On 8 February 2002, the first 24 fuel rods had been safely removed from the reactor and were in a fuel basket inside the defuelling machine. The fuel basket was about to be lowered in the normal way when it unexpectedly descended partway down the discharge well before stopping. The basket remained attached to the hoist and all the fuel remained inside the basket within the containment of the fuel discharge route.

BNFL reported the event to the NII on 8 February. The NII observed the subsequent operation to recover the basket by manually lowering it down the discharge well into the flask. This operation was completed on 10 February and the fuel was removed in the normal way. There was no health risk either to members of the public or to personnel on site at any stage.

Defuelling at Calder Hall has been suspended until BNFL reports the outcome of its internal investigation and completes any requirements for remedial action to the satisfaction of the NII.

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