The UK’s chief nuclear inspector has highlighted the “considerable progress” being made to tackle hazards and risks at the Sellafield site in West Cumbria.

In his first annual report on the nuclear sector’s safety and security performance, Mark Foy, praised progress made on removing significant volumes of radioactive waste and spent fuel from legacy storage ponds along with preparations for retrieving hazardous materials from the site’s legacy silos.

Together with improvements to the Special Nuclear Material (North) Complex, they were among the several high-priority projects that came to fruition in 2018-19, he said.

The year also saw the safe and secure transport of the largest ever inventory of special nuclear material (which is mildly radioactive) from the Dounreay site in north Scotland to Sellafield as part of a national consolidation of nuclear waste.

Mr Foy said “significant improvements” had also been made to operational practices at the Magnox reprocessing plant after the ONR tool enforcement action against Sellafield Limited in 2015 following a number of incidents.

“Sellafield has continued to demonstrate a robust and positive approach to security reporting,” said Mr Foy, who added that while a number of incidents at the site had been reported to the ONR, they were judged to be of “negligible risk”.

He said the ONR would continue to focus on progress being made at the site and on Sellafield Ltd’s capability to “deliver safe and accelerated hazard remediation and risk reduction”.

The report was welcomed by Sellafield Ltd, which a spokesperson said was “part of our shared commitment to openness and transparency”.

“The safe, secure stewardship of the Sellafield site is our overriding priority and underpins every decision we make, from clean-up and waste management operations to the safety of our people, care for our environment and the security of nuclear materials,” they said, adding that there has been no significant nuclear site incident reports made in the last two years.

“We look forward to working with the ONR and others to sustain and improve our performance in the future,” they added.

Sellafield Ltd was fined £380,000 for safety breaches in April this year after a worker received a puncture wound to one of his hands while working in a glovebox used to process radioactive materials back in February 2017.

It was also served with an improvement notice in May after a failure to follow procedures resulted in the vitrified waste container being decontaminated without the container lid being welded shut at its Waste Vitrification Plant.

The incident – which happened in February – did not cause harm to people or the environment, but the ONR insisted on a number of improvements to reduce the risk of a recurrence.

Mr Foy’s report also looked beyond decommissioning and delved into areas across the sector, including new build.

While he said the ONR was “satisfied” that the industry was continuing to meet its security obligation, there was still room for improvement.

Elsewhere, the ONR said there “remains much work to do to develop a site-specific safety case and security plan” for a Geological Disposal Facility to store Britain’s most hazardous nuclear waste.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched the search for a volunteer community to host the facility in December 2018.

Cumbria has already been in the running to host GDF, but the process was abandoned in 2013 when Cumbria County Council withdrew – despite Copeland and Allerdale councils wanting to continue.

At present local authorities have yet to form an official response to the process, although, for many in the industry, Cumbria remains the most obvious location given much of the waste to be stored at the GDF will come from the Sellafield site.

The ONR also said it was establishing its inspection capability to ensure it has safeguards in place equivalent to those currently provided by nuclear agency Euratom, which ensures nuclear safety and standards are met.

It wants a new regime in place by the end of December 2020 by which time the UK will have withdrawn from Euratom, which falls under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.