A DELIBERATE attempt to disrupt security with a tripwire is one of more than 200 “abnormal events” at Scotland’s two nuclear power stations revealed in documents obtained by the Sunday Herald.
Other safety incidents recorded at Torness in East Lothian and Hunterston in North Ayrshire include unauthorised waste discharges and problems with reactor fuel and fires. The environment and equipment at the sites have also been contaminated with radioactivity.
On a couple of occasions, manning levels have breached those required by site emergency arrangements. And once the wrong computer software was loaded into a reactor control system.
The incidents were all reported to the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by the nuclear power company British Energy in the last five years. The HSE released summaries of the incident reports in response to a freedom of information request from the Sunday Herald.
The most serious incident was the discovery of the tripwire at Torness. Police were called to the plant in March 2003 after a black cable was found stretched across the top of a flight of stairs.
This had caused a security guard patrolling the nuclear site to trip and fall down the stairs. Both the police and British Energy launched investigations to try and trace the culprit.
The cable was found to have been cut from a coil at Torness, but forensic and other tests were unable to track down the culprit. Investigations had to be abandoned due to a lack of evidence.
The revelation of the incident has rekindled fears that nuclear plants could be vulnerable to sabotage by terrorists. Police chief superintendent David McCracken told East Lothian councillors last week that Torness was a target for international terrorist groups.
Pete Roche, a consultant to the anti-nuclear group Greenpeace, described the tripwire incident as “particularly worrying”. The unknown insider who had set the trap could still be working at Torness, he pointed out.
He said: “When considering whether we want another nuclear station at Torness, we should ask ourselves what kind of energy policy would Osama bin Laden want us to adopt.”
Roche argued that many of the other incidents at Torness and Hunterston were not trivial. “They illustrate well that just saying we have never had a serious accident doesn’t mean we never will,” he said.
Between June 2000 and June 2005 British Energy filed 230 incident reports about Torness to the HSE, 39 of then in the past six months. A further 59 reports were filed for Hunterston B, 26 of them in 2005.
On February 17, 2005 at Torness, according to one report, “a nuclear safety-related door in the essential supply building was left open, thus degrading the hazard boundary”. At Hunterston on March 26, 2001 there was a “potential discharge of boiler water via unconsented discharge route”.
British Energy, however, argued that most of the incidents were minor, reflecting the fact that it reported any anomaly to the safety regulators. “By capturing and dealing with the minor anomalies, the company and the industry ensures nothing serious ever happens,” said a company spokeswoman.
“The regulator is also able to prove that it is holding us to account on the minute details so that the public can be reassured about the attention to detail on safety. We believe the public wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The tripwire incident had been taken very seriously by British Energy, but nothing like it had happened before or since. “Safety is one of the company’s fundamental priorities and any safety contravention is treated very seriously,” the spokeswoman added.
“In the nuclear industry there are no grey areas. Something is either right or it is not. There are no degrees of right or wrong.”
ABNORMAL INCIDENTS AT TORNESS AND HUNTERSTON
Hunterston B, North Ayrshire
22 March 2001: "groundwater contamination"
13 October 2004: "shutdown following contamination"
21 Jan 2005: "fuel manufacturing anomalies"
10 February 2005: "fuel cell criticality control"
Torness, East Lothian
2 March 2001: "offsite flask train derailment"
11 September 2002: "highly active debris"
21 April 2004: "package externally contaminated"
17 March 2005: "nuclear boundary door found open and damaged"
source: Health and Safety Executive
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