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Incident at Sizwell A leads to improved nuclear plant safety

PUBLISHED: 09:53 09 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:53 09 March 2013

Sizewell A (left)

Sizewell A (left)

Improved safety measures have been introduced at the Sizewell A nuclear power station following the seepage of sulphuric acid into a pool containing highly radioactive spent fuel rods.

The incident occurred ten weeks ago as work continued on the removal of about 30,000 rods from the station’s two reactors following the end of electricity generation more than six years ago.

An internal inquiry was set up following the incident and the outcome was reported at the latest meeting of the Sizewell Stakeholder Group – a forum set up to increase the flow of information between the community, the nuclear site and regulators.

Tim Watkins, site director, said “better engineered” barriers had since been installed to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Improved training methods and procedures had also been introduced for staff.

Mr Watkins said that over a period of months the seepage of acid could have led to the corrosion of fuel rods in the pool.

But management had taken an early decision to ship out the vulnerable rods – numbering about 1,200 – to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing works, a destination they would have reached after the normal cooling period. Despatch of the rods had been achieved within 20 days of the incident, Mr Watkins said. The incident had led to a “pause” in the removal of fuel but the station was now back on schedule to complete the job by September 2014.

Mr Watkins said that a maximum of 130 staff jobs would be lost following the completion of de-fuelling as the station moved into a general de-commissioning phase.

The workforce and trade unions were being fully consulted. Jobs among contractors would also be lost, he said.

Daniel Gregory, site inspector for the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the UK nuclear safety watchdog, said Sizewell A management had responded to the acid incident in a “pragmatic” way.

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