A GOVERNMENT minister has given reassurances that Sellafield poses “no safety risk” following the claims made by Panorama .

Addressing Parliament on Tuesday in response to the documentary’s allegations, Nick Hurd said: “There is no safety risk to site staff or the public – and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.”

Mr Hurd, the Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, added: “Ensuring high standards of nuclear safety will always be a top priority for this government.”

The Parliamentary debate was held after Copeland’s MP Jamie Reed secured time to put an ‘urgent question’ to government following Monday’s broadcast.

Mr Reed said: “The safety and security of Sellafield are the most important considerations of everyone working at the site. Safety is non-negotiable and as a former, third-generation Sellafield worker, I know that the Sellafield workforce is acutely aware of its responsibilities towards the entire community.

“It’s crucial that everyone in the local community – and nationally – understands the work that is taking place, and it’s vitally important this is understood in a comprehensive and accurate way.”

Mr Hurd also pointed to the site’s “impressive” recent safety record, and added that the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation and its team of 50 inspectors “is satisfied that Sellafield is safe”.

Panorama claims dismissed as 'sensationalist'

CLAIMS made about Sellafield safety by Panorama have been dismissed as “sensationalist” by a union representing thousands of workers.

Prospect says the documentary “presented the public with a partial and sensationalised view of safety at the site”, adding that the 5,000-plus staff it represents on site “are committed to the highest standards of safety.”

Garry Graham, Prospect’s deputy general secretary, said: “We simply do not recognise the assertions made in relation to safety culture. Our members not only work on the site but also live with their families and friends in the local community.

“The notion that they would deliberately jeopardise safety simply does not ring true. Sellafield is a hugely complex site, with legacy challenges going back to the 1950s, and the staff on site deserve support and respect.”

This view was echoed by David Moore, chair of the committee which scrutinises the nuclear industry locally, who also said the programme gave a “sensationalist perspective”.

“The documentary was not balanced and they didn’t want to hear the other side of the story,” added Mr Moore, chair of the West Cumbria Sites Stakeholders’ Group.

“It didn’t raise anything that we didn’t already know – all of which have been through our scrutiny committee process – and most of the issues it raised date back to 2012/13 and have long since been addressed.”

Mr Moore added concern that the stakeholders’ group, which scrutinises the industry on behalf of the local community, was not contacted for an opinion by the documentary-makers.

However, Martin Forwood, founder of campaign group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (Core), said the expose “will have rightly shocked many national viewers but will not have come as such a surprise to those who routinely monitor the site’s activities”.

He added: “Many of the problems exposed may owe their origins to the ‘bad old days’, but the blame lies squarely with today’s operators and their inability, despite the billions of taxpayers’ money pumped into the site, to rectify what Panorama described as the ‘most basic mistakes’.

“Rather than looking for scapegoats for the state of the site, it would be refreshing for once if Sellafield was to concentrate on its own very relevant inadequacies and failures exposed by Panorama .”

Both Mr Graham and Mr Moore have criticised those from the Nuclear Management Partners consortium (Sellafield’s operators from 2008 to 2016) who spoke scathingly in the documentary about the condition in which they found the site when they took charge.

Mr Graham said: “It is surprising that representatives of NMP have chosen to raise their concerns in the way that they have.

“They had been running the site for six years when they lost the contract – and were involved in the transition over the following 15 months. If they had such pressing safety concerns at the time one wonders why they weren’t raised then?”

Mr Moore added: “If NMP were unhappy or felt unsafe, what did they do about it?”

The regulator response...

A spokesperson for the Office for Nuclear Regulation said: “Sellafield is safe but presents many unique challenges due to its age and history.

“A considerable amount of work is still required to clean up out-of-date facilities and decommission their older plants. But this does not mean they pose an immediate safety risk to workers or the public. We set very high standards throughout the industry and have seen Sellafield make significant progress in recent years.

"If we considered any plant unsafe we would shut it down or demand action to reduce that risk and return it to safety.

“Sellafield is the most intensely regulated nuclear site in the UK. We have more than 50 highly qualified and experienced inspectors in our Sellafield team to ensure it operates as safely and securely as possible. Hazard and risk reduction at Sellafield remains our number one regulatory priority.”

The Sellafield response...

A Sellafield Ltd spokesperson responded: “Sellafield is safe, there is no question about that.

“The BBC Panorama programme is an unfair reflection on our community and workforce, who are making great progress in cleaning up Europe’s most complex nuclear site on behalf of the UK taxpayer.

“The site is home to 11,000 employees and thousands more contractors have the protection of their colleagues and the community as their overriding priority.

“It is disappointing that despite giving BBC Panorama access to Sellafield and spending a significant amount of time explaining complex issues, the programme painted a negative picture of safety that we do not recognise.

“Our current safety performance is excellent and improving and we continue to work around the clock to ensure that the site is safe today, tomorrow and in the future.”

On specific allegations made by Panorama...

- there are too few staff to operate some facilities safely :

Sellafield Ltd said: "Safety is our number our priority. Minimum safety manning levels are there to ensure that we have the correct number of people to safely continue plant operations.

"It is not a safety issue. If we don’t have the minimum number of people we need to safely do work, then we don’t do it. Safety always comes first."

- liquid uranium and plutonium are stored inappropriately :

Sellafield Ltd said: "The waste is stored safely in bottles, suitable for handling this type of material. These bottles are housed in purpose made facilities within scientific laboratories, until their contents are chemically recycled by the site as part of the clean programme agreed with the regulator."

- Sellafield is a run-down plant, its infrastructure is poor and its storage ponds and silos are not fit for purpose :

Sellafield Ltd said: "It is widely understood in the local community that these facilities were built in the 1950 and 1960s, some of the plants are degraded and need to be taken down – and that’s exactly what we’re doing on site, every day.

"Last week we were awarded 10 awards by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)– each of the four legacy ponds and silos received a gold award for safety performance."

- safety alarms are re-set without checking :

Sellafield Ltd said: "Our people are trained to respond immediately to alarms which need an immediate response."

- the Sellafield fire and rescue service is ill-equipped to deal with an emergency :

Sellafield Ltd said: "Our fire and rescue team is one of the best equipped in the world, trained to respond to multiple incidents in our bespoke, specialist and complex facilities, on the crowded, cluttered site. They know how to respond if we ever had an emergency."