April 2000

Sellafield workers drop appeals over fake data sackings

The Independent [London], 27 April 2000
By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

[Posted 28/04/2000]

Three workers from Sellafield who were sacked over the faking of safety data on highly dangerous nuclear fuel rods have withdrawn their unfair dismissal cases.

The trio, who live close to the plant in west Cumbria, were due to claim unfair dismissal against British Nuclear Fuels at a tribunal in Carlisle today. But an employment tribunals spokesman said yesterday: "Their cases have been withdrawn." The sacked process workers are Andrew Morton, of Whitehaven, Steve Coulthard, of Egremont, and Bill Lomas, of Maryport.

None of the men wished to talk about the cause of their sacking or their decision to withdraw their appeals. Despite rumours locally that the men have come under pressure from residents who see thousands of jobs at risk following the exposure by The Independent of the scandal none was willing to speak about their lives since they were dismissed. "I don't want to speak about it at all," Mr Lomas said.

BNFL said it was aware of the withdrawal of the appeals but said "this is a private matter for the people involved and for this reason it would be inappropriate to make any further comment".

The three workers, who had been at Sellafield for between seven and 15 years, were sacked in September for faking data on 22 batches of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, a mix of plutonium and uranium.

Shortly before The Independent had revealed that records of manual quality checks had been falsified on MOX nuclear fuel rods intended for export. Subsequently Japan, Switzerland and Germany suspended all shipments of fuel from Sellafield.

Now the Government has postponed its planned sell-off of BNFL, and there are doubts about its ability to operate its new 300m MOX plant commercially, having lost the faith of foreign customers who would have given it reprocessing contracts for spent nuclear fuel.

The MOX plant was built on the understanding that the Government would give the company the go-ahead to operate it if the company proved its ability to manufacture MOX fuel in a demonstration facility.

BNFL also faces threats from the Irish and Danish governments who want to close the plant via the European courts, alleging a breach of radioactive emissions limits.

An investigation is continuing after a worker sabotaged radioactive handling equipment by cutting cables on robotic arms in the virification plant at Sellafield.

* AWE Management, the BNFL-led consortium which operates the nuclear weapons plants at Aldermaston and Cardiff, has denied reports that there may be more radioactive and toxic wastes in the plants than previously announced.

The claims, made today in New Scientist magazine, quoted an internal BNFL report which said that further surveys were needed and which expressed surprise at apparent inconsistencies in waste records.

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