January 2000


Ten more MOX workers face disciplinary action

Whitehaven News, Cumbria, England [local newspaper for Sellafield], 27 January 2000

[Posted 31/01/2000]

Ten more Sellafield MOX workers ranging from shop floor to management face the sack in a new investigation over faked plutonium fuel data. All have been charged by BNFL with gross misconduct.

Five process workers are "on the carpet" over the next two days while next week the rest, all managers, will also appear before Sellafield disciplinary hearings.

Three process workers have already been sacked after losing two appeals for falsifying MOX fuel quality control data and may yet take BNFL to an industrial tribunal claiming they were made scapegoats.

Concerns have gathered force since last week's Whitehaven News revelation that the faked data threatens the whole future of Sellafield, putting thousands of West Cumbrian jobs and businesses at risk. Worried BNFL risks losing billions of pounds worth of future orders and the possible closure of Thorp if there is no MOX plant to use the plutonium it generates.

As the 10 employees wait to learn their fate, BNFL admit: "We believe it is necessary to take further action as part of our wider long-term efforts to restore confidence."

Site union official John Kane said: "It is Sellafield's worst crisis, but how do we know what the Japanese want us to do to win back trust until they tell us?"

The falsified data relates to 22 batches of mixed oxide fuel made at Sellafield in the MOX Demonstration Facility where towards the end of last week, the 120 workers were instructed to stay at home on full pay until they were told to report back for re-training.

But after union protests BNFL backed down and by Monday all 120 were back in the plant even though there are no jobs for them to do in the shutdown plant.

Sellafield spokeswoman Ali Dunlop said: "We are looking at what useful things the MDF workforce can do. The plant also has to be looked after on a care and maintenance basis - someone has to turn off the lights."

Meanwhile, the first of the new disciplinary hearings take place today and tomorrow. These involve five GMB process workers who will have union representation.

One of the GMB's national officers, Brian Strutton, flew in from London on Monday.

"We are investigating the accusations and have had a very detailed meeting with the individuals concerned. We are still fighting for the three who have lost their jobs over this. While none of us condone any activities that endanger the plant or the safety of the people in it we have to make sure that punishments fit the crime. We haven't seen BNFL's evidence in full yet and we won't until the hearings."

He added: "Some of the management positions, albeit low level, have been identified for disciplinary action as well.

"We are very worried about it all but I think we are doing a good job at shoring up the defences and it doesn't have to end in doom and gloom. I have tried to reassure our Japanese trade union counterparts about safety at Sellafield and we are working very hard to help restore the company's damaged reputation."

Representatives of BNFL's Japanese customer Kansai Electric are at Sellafield this week carrying out their own quality control investigation amid fears that BNFL could lose its MOX fuel orders to France.

Kansai has warned it may want its MOX returned to Sellafield subject to talks between embarrassed UK and Japanese Governments. A return voyage will cost BNFL millions of pounds.

BNFL ACCUSED OF SHOWING CONTEMPT

BNFL has been accused of treating Copeland Council with contempt over new plans for moving plutonium waste from Drigg to Sellafield. And the company has been warned that the council could still wield the big stick by taking enforcement action against it.

Although the council is not looking to take any drastic action, feelings ran high at last week's Planning Panel meeting, at which BNFL was accused of dragging its feet over the supply of information to the borough council.

Enforcement action is an option for the council because BNFL breached a planning condition attached to its Sellafield-engineered drum store in removing only 700 containers of waste from Drigg when it should have been 5,000 over the last five years.

Instead, the company has applied for a six-year extension, pledging a 40 million spend on equipment and resources.

Extra information sought in early December by the council on the retrieval strategy had still not reached the Planning Panel whose chairman George Usher declared: "BNFL are treating us with contempt.

"The information we have requested is not unreasonable and it is disgraceful that it has not been forthcoming.

"We don't want to go down the road of enforcement but we will have to seriously consider it if they don't get their act together. All we are asking them to do is share their plans with us and for some reason they don't seem to want to do that.

"We can only assume they have something to hide and are frightened to bring it to us."

Coun Norman Clarkson said the chairman was "quite right" in his criticism. "There are enough meetings between council members and the hierarchy at Sellafield, so maybe the wrong people are going down there to talk."

Coun David Moore said: "At our next meeting we will have to look at taking enforcement action if we don't get this information."

However, in refuting the contempt allegation, Sellafield spokeswoman, Diane Williams, said: "Everything the council asked for we have sent and we will be happy to send any more if it is requested.

"The problem seems to be that it was sent to somebody at the council who was down with 'flu and that it did not get passed on."

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