Bomb disposal team are called to Sellafield nuclear site

Bomb disposal team are called to Sellafield nuclear site after explosive chemical organic peroxide was discovered during routine inspection

  • Bomb disposal experts have led evacuation of Sellafield nuclear plant, Cumbria
  • Chemical organic peroxide found during a routine inspection of plant yesterday
  • The sprawling site has been shut down until the chemical can be safely removed

A nuclear power plant has been evacuated after a dangerous chemical was discovered.

Bomb disposal experts cleared part of the Sellafield site in Cumbria after organic peroxide was found during a routine inspection yesterday.

The sprawling station has been shut down until the chemical can be safely removed from the Magnox Reprocessing Plant.

Bosses said the substance – used in plastics and rubber industries – is away from the nuclear operation and was being treated as a conventional safety issue.

Bomb disposal experts cleared Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria after organic peroxide was found during a routine inspection

What is organic peroxide and how dangerous is it?

Organic peroxide is from a family of unstable compounds used for making a variety of products, including pharmaceuticals and construction materials.

They are so unstable that they must be kept cool or they can ignite a runaway scenario.

Organic peroxides are used in chemical manufacturing to kick-start and keep producing reactions that generate new chemicals.

They are usually safe and useful chemicals when handled properly.

Sellafield Ltd said in a statement: ‘During a routine inspection of chemical substances stored on the Sellafield site, a small amount of chemicals (organic peroxide) were identified as requiring specialist disposal.

‘This chemical is used for a variety of purposes across many industries. In line with established procedures, support has been requested from Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD).

‘The EOD team is now in attendance at the Sellafield site and will dispose of the chemical safely.

‘Chemical monitoring is undertaken across the site to understand changing chemical states and to inform when and how industrial chemicals should be stored or disposed of.

‘This chemical substance was stored in the site’s Magnox Reprocessing Plant. The storage area is safely segregated from the nuclear operations of the plant and the risk has been identified as a conventional safety issue rather than a nuclear safety risk.

‘As a precautionary measure, a controlled evacuation of the Magnox Reprocessing Plant was carried out yesterday in order to investigate the chemical and devise the appropriate course of action.

Sellafield nuclear plant is seen on February 24, 2005, in Cumbria. The 3.8 square km site on the coast produces nuclear fuel for electricity as well as stores nuclear waste from several countries around the world

Built on the site of a former Second World War munitions factory, it was originally named Windscale. It was chosen to produce plutonium for Britain’s weapons programme in 1947.

Its Calder Hall reactors were the first in the world to use nuclear fission to generate electricity on a large scale.

In October 1957, a fire in one tower spread radioactive contamination across the UK and Europe. It remains the UK’s worst nuclear incident and made Sellafield a target for environmental protest.

Since the 1960s the site has been reprocessing nuclear fuel from around the globe.

Electricity production ended in 2003. Work is now centred on reprocessing waste and decommissioning reactors and plants.

‘The plant was non-operational at the time. The plant will remain non-operational while the chemical is disposed of.

‘As ever, our priority remains the protection of our workforce, community and the environment.’

Bomb disposal experts were called to the plant in 2018 after a similar incident and their report found the site had failed to identify the risks of out of date chemicals.

Sellafield was also rocked last year by claims of bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Whistleblowers said it had a ‘toxic’ culture, with women harassed and propositioned by senior male employees while homophobia and racist comments were ignored. 

The then chief executive admitted he was ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ of what is going on.

In a video message to staff, leaked to the Daily Mail last year, Paul Foster said a survey found one in 20 of the 10,000 workforce were being bullied or harassed.

One in four felt it was tolerated by bosses.

Some employees said they feared safety at the site, which housed the largest inventory of untreated nuclear waste in the world, could be compromised.

The nuclear processing plant in Cumbria is owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, a non-departmental government body responsible for winding down and cleaning the site by 2120.

It is run by not-for-profit Sellafield Ltd, which has a £2billion-a-year budget.

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