Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Barry Gardiner raises Sellafield safety concerns after Panorama programme

Following the Panorama report on Sellafield questions were asked in the House of Commons by several MPs.

The programme can be viewed HERE

This is what Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North and Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, said:

Yesterday evening’s television report on Sellafield was profoundly disturbing, and my hon. Friend Mr Reed was absolutely right to request this urgent question—I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. My hon. Friend expressed his concerns at the revelations and referred to the importance of the storage and reprocessing facility for his constituency. Of course, the House must raise such concerns on behalf of the country.

I want to focus on a number of questions on which I believe the Minister should give the House either further information or reassurance, and preferably both. On minimum staffing levels, will he confirm that as recently as five days ago a formal notice was sent to the management, raising the unions’ concern about critical manning levels and the ability to comply with the appropriate procedures and practices when minimum staffing levels are not met?

Will the Minister also say whether he agrees with Dr Rex Strong, the head of nuclear safety, who said in last night’s programme that not meeting the minimum safety standards or staffing levels did not mean that there was a safety risk?

In 2013, the manager of the site, Nuclear Management Partners, produced its somewhat ironically entitled excellence plan, cataloguing the safety problems and the critical nature of the infrastructure with respect to both electricity and water supply on the site. Why did the Government not insist that further resources—staffing and, of course, financial resources—be invested in the site to clean it up at that point? The Minister will know that expenditure in 2012-13 was £7,348 million, with £3,157 million from the Department of Energy and Climate Change itself. The year following that report, the figure had fallen to £5,345 million. Will he explain why, after such a damning report, the resources going into the site decreased? Will he also confirm that the cost estimates for the clean-up of the site have increased at an annual estimate from £25.2 million to £47.9 million?

The programme also cited problems with alarms, and it was said that these were turned off repeatedly, without checking. Will the Minister confirm that that practice is no longer in force? Finally, will he confirm that he has absolute confidence in Dr Rex Strong as head of nuclear safety at Sellafield and John Clarke, the chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority?
Gardiner did not get a very full reply from Nick Hurd, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:
Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for a constructive response, which reflects the cross-party concern to get this absolutely right with no equivocation. Issues were raised in the programme about minimum safety levels. I think they were responded to adequately in the programme. We were reassured that the NDA always has enough people on duty to maintain the site safely, and if the work cannot be done safely it will not get it done. I think the programme and the response to it have reassured us on that front.

As I said in my opening statement, cleaning up Sellafield safely costs £2 billion a year, and maintaining the NDA’s overall annual spend on cleaning up the UK’s nuclear sites at some £3 billion reflects the continuing importance that the Government place on cleaning up the civil nuclear legacy and Sellafield.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the reaction to the number of alarms raised—another issue raised in the programme. Those alarms, as he knows, are not unusual, given the types of material that people are working with and do not necessarily mean that there is a safety issue. However, we are reassured that staff are briefed never to be complacent and always react to alarms if they are serious, which is a point that was made in rebuttals in the programme.

On levels of confidence, yes, we do have confidence in the NDA. We also have a great deal of confidence in the independent regulator, which has made it quite clear that, as far as it is concerned, the programme does not raise any new issues and that Sellafield is safe.

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