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Volume 975: debated on Monday 10 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy (1) when he expects to receive the report of the Health and Safety Executive into the radiation leak at Wind scale first discovered on 10 October 1976; and why this leak has not yet been stopped;(2) what further reports into the operations at Windscale he expects to receive, and when, from the Health and Safety Executive;(3) what discussions he has had with the Health and Safety Executive concerning British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. over a second radiation leak at Windscale; and what action he intends to take;(4) what is his assessment of the danger to the public caused by the radiation leaks at Windscale; and if he will make a statement.

[pursuant to his reply, 5 December 1979, c. 222…: The first leak to which the hon. Member refers, of contaminated water from the B38 storage silo, was found on 10 October 1976. The bulk of the resulting activity is at present confined to within a few metres of the site of the leak. BNFL and the Government Departments and agencies concerned are checking regularly to determine whether any migration is occurring. There is no evidence of any hazard to workers at Windscale; to the environment beyond the immediate vicinity of the buildings concerned; or to the public generally.BNFL has been advised that the most effective way to stop this leak would be to empty the silo of water, solid and semisolid waste and reprocess these. The company is pursuing urgently the development of schemes to do this, but it will be a considerable time before the necessary remote control equipment, techniques and ancillary processes can be developed and installed. Attempts to seal the silo from the inside without emptying it would be of doubtful effectiveness. They might also prejudice the possibility of emptying the silo, as the result of solidification of contaminated sealing material. Attempts to seal from the outside would involve exposure of workers to radioactivity, besides being of uncertain effectiveness. Since the evidence is that the additional activity which may leak out in the next few years will be small compared with the amount which has already been released and that this is contained in the vicinity of the silo, the company is to continue with the development of the emptying route. But in parallel with this, the company has been required by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to develop contingency plans for sealing from the inside without emptying, and also for undertaking the major engineering work involved in building a curtain wall round the silo should the results of monitoring make either necessary.The second leak, of high activity liquid, from a building no longer in operational use, was stopped as soon as it was discovered. In this case also the bulk of the resulting activity is confined to the immediate area of the leak. The activity is being monitored regularly and, as was made clear in an interim report published by the Health and Safety Executive on 17 May, there is no evidence of any hazard to site workers, the environment beyond the area concerned or to the public.The HSE is to publish three separate reports on safety at Windscale. The present position on these is as follows:

  • (a) a report on the leak, from the B38 silo is being prepared for publication;
  • (b) a final report on the second leak of highly active liquids is being prepared by the Nuclear Installations Inspector (NII), which has recently completed its investigations;
  • (c) a third report will be concerned with the findings of the review of safety arrangements at Windscale which I announced on 26 July. The review is under way, but the review team does not expect to complete its task and prepare its report for some time.