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Annual Review of Safety 2015/16

An Interview: Bernie Coombe talks to Euan Hutton, Environment, Health, Safety and Quality Director, Sellafield Ltd

The safe, secure stewardship of the Sellafield site is our overriding priority. It covers everything from the safety of our employees and care for the environment through to the secure management of nuclear materials. It underpins every decision we make.

Risk and hazard reduction 2015/16
Our safety performance has been achieved while delivering progress in the clean up of our most hazardous facilities. Delivery highlights include:

  • Removal of the entire bulk stocks of historic nuclear fuel from the Pile Fuel Storage Pond, reducing radioactivity levels at the 68-year-old pond by 70 per cent.

  • Beginning of bulk sludge transfers from the legacy First Generation Magnox Storage Pond to the Sludge Packaging Plant. This success was followed by the start of bulk fuel exports from the pond at the beginning of this financial year. This achievement was the culmination of over a decade of planning, preparation and investment. Thousands of people, both at Sellafield and in the nuclear supply chain, have been involved in getting ready to start emptying the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond of its highest hazard contents.

  • Completion of the assembly of the first 11 modules of the Silo Emptying Plant, which will be used to grab radioactive waste from the compartments at the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (completing the main mechanical build – 300 tonnes of the 360 tonne machine).

  • The first delivery in March 2016 of equipment needed to install the huge, steel silo containment doors which will be attached to the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo. This marks progress towards retrievals starting in the last of the four legacy buildings, to get radioactive waste out and into a safer place.

  • A new ventilation stack has been built at Sellafield – so an old one can be knocked down. Completion of the Separation Area Ventilation project has paved the way for the demolition of a stack on top of one of the site’s reprocessing plants. The new ventilation building will provide a modern state of the art aerial discharge route for existing facilities at Sellafield, and enable the removal of older facilities to be completed.

  • We reduced highly active liquor (HAL) stocks achieving a regulator mandated milestone. The work we have undertaken to secure long-term evaporative capacity is key to this success.

 

Ultimately, we are here at Sellafield to ensure that the nuclear materials on the site are safe and contained.

This was our Environment, Health, Safety and Quality Director, Euan Hutton’s opening address to our senior management team at a recent meeting. It is also his starting point when he sat down with me to talk about our safety performance in the last financial year.


He continued: “For me the most important thing we do every day at Sellafield, and the reason that we’re all here, is to protect the environment by assuring nuclear safety. Keeping nuclear materials where they are meant to be. Our risk and hazard reduction work is also a key feature of our safety performance on two fronts. Firstly, reducing risk and hazards on the site – cleaning up our old buildings – makes Sellafield safer. We’re not in the position where, if we don’t like something, we can switch it off. In a number of our facilities, predominately our legacy storage buildings, we don’t have that option. We can’t just switch them off; we’ve got to do something about them. We also have to stay safe while doing this work”.

While our focus shifts more and more to this vital clean-up work, it is not the only activity carried out on the site. Euan is keenly aware of the potential for people to get hurt at work.

“On one site we are running nuclear facilities, waste treatment plants, waste storage plants, using chemicals and managing nuclear materials. Sellafield isn’t just a complicated nuclear site; it is also an industrial site. This involves design and build, commissioning, operations, decommissioning, waste management and demolition – every part of a project lifecycle. Our work requires radiological controls, environmental restoration, industrial safety challenges such as working at heights, working with asbestos and legionella control. Our daily working environment presents radiological, chemical and conventional safety hazards. It is fundamental that every single one of our 11,000 employees and  upwards of 3,000 contractors go home safe every day. 

All of these activities are underpinned by an equally stringent approach to quality. He continued: “By making sure we have the right quality service, and the right processes, we can do what we need to do and deliver return on investment. It is important too that our subcontractors understand where nuclear safety fits in, and that they continue to produce goods and materials to the right quality so that the things we get, do what they’re supposed to do.”

When I ask Euan how he thought we had performed across our various aspects of safety, he pauses.

“When you look at the cold statistics you have to say that our performance was mixed, with good performance in nuclear, environmental and radiological safety, but we missed targets in our industrial performance. When I look at what we delivered across the site in the same period though, I have to say that, overall our safety performance was good. We have built upon our previous strong environmental performance with no significant environmental events; overall discharges and disposals of waste are well within permit limits.”

Nuclear Safety

Note: The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) is a rapid alert system used for consistent communication of events across the nuclear industry. These are categorised between Level 1, which is an anomaly, to Level 7 which represents a major accident. In 2015/16 we had three INES events rated Level 1 (an anomaly).


 

Note: This metric represents the number of nuclear incident reports categorised as significant under our sentencing scheme. The three recorded this year were: One of our four standby diesel generators failed while another was undergoing maintenance, meaning that we temporarily dropped below the required level of standby electrical generation capacity. Contingencies were put in place to address the issue. The second was in relation to the ventilation system within the Magnox Swarf Storage Silos. 


 

1. We continually assess how we are performing, carrying out a wide range of internal regulation and assurance activities to help us assess how we’re doing and where we need to centre our attention and provide insights for continued improvement.

2. Our nuclear professionalism standards support and reinforce our nuclear safety culture. They reflect the fundamental behaviours required of all nuclear professionals regardless of their position in the organisation.


 

Environmental Safety

Note: This metric represents the number of environmental incident reports categorised as significant under our sentencing scheme. The three incidents were a minor release of non-radioactive nitric oxide, an exceedance of the dry weather flow limit in our sewage treatment works and a discharge of sodium nitrite. There were no environmental consequences or radiological discharges as a result of these incidents.


 

1. Our beach monitoring programme for the 2015/16 financial year was successfully completed to schedule. A total of 166.75 ha monitored, against a target of 160 ha.

Beach monitoring provides reassurance that the risks associated with using the beaches around Sellafield remain very low. Public Health England’s risk assessment concludes that “the overall health risks for beach users are very low and significantly lower than other risks that people accept when using the beaches.”

2. All radioactive discharges remained well within authorised limits. Marine discharges remain at historic low levels.


 

Industrial Safety

Note: The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) is a rapid alert system used for consistent communication of events across the nuclear industry. These are categorised between Level 1, which is an anomaly, to Level 7 which represents a major accident. In 2015/16 we had three INES events rated Level 1 (an anomaly).


 

Note: This records the rate of all recordable injuries including medical treatments, lost time accidents, and RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) reportable injuries.


 

Note: This metric records accidents which result in individuals being away from work for more than one day


 

Note: This metric records the rate of RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) injures which result in employees being away from work from more than seven days, and Major Injuries.


 

Note: This metric records the number of RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) Dangerous Occurrences.


 

1. We have a combined Sellafield Ltd and supply chain workforce of more than 14,000 people. These people are delivering a wide range of work in a mix of office, radiological and industrial environments.

2. Quality is important. We need the right quality service, goods and processes, to deliver the work that we need to do.

Radiological Safety

Note: This metric provides the total number of personal contamination events. None of these events resulted in any significant radiation exposure. We continue to work with radiological protection working groups to further prevent contamination events.


 

Note: This metric represents the number of nuclear incident reports categorised as significant under our sentencing scheme. There were two recorded this year. The first related to a radioactive source that was found not to be stored in its rightful container. The source was immediately returned to its safe storage; at no point was there any significant exposure to anyone. The second occurred when we carried out a new process whereby a radioactive source is temporarily introduced in to a sealed cell in order to test the functionality of gamma monitors inside the cell. During the transfer of the source in to the cell one of our employees was briefly exposed to an elevated level of radioactivity. The employee is still well within our annual dose limits, which are lower than the permitted annual dose rate.


 

1. All doses to the workforce remain less than 10 millisieverts (mSv)/yr with  the average being less than 1 mSv/yr. The average annual UK dose is 2,700 microsieverts of which 2,230 microsieverts is derived from natural source.

2. Radiological safety staff play a key part in ensuring the safety of our people and our site.


 

Variations to site-wide permits have been made to ensure appropriate regulatory permissioning is in place to facilitate operations and decommissioning activities. This included permitting the Calder Interceptor Sewer to take low activity streams to benefit existing and future major projects. The variations also included a 10% reduction in alpha, beta and tritium limits for site aqueous discharges and consequential reductions in specific plant limits.

“Doses to the most exposed members of the public from operations at Sellafield remain very low at approximately 100 microsieverts (µSv)/yr. This compares to the average annual UK dose of around 2,700 µSv, of which 2,230 (µSv)/yr is derived from natural sources. Our radiological protection performance remains strong in a year of increased high hazard risk reduction work. All doses to the workforce remain less than 10 millisieverts (mSv)/yr with the average being less than 1 mSv. We also recently collected nine awards – eight gold and one silver – at the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents Occupational Health and Safety Awards 2016. Many of our contractor colleagues also won awards for their safety performance at Sellafield. These successes are a reflection of the hard work put in by our employees and contractors in making Sellafield a safe place and of our collective commitment to continually improve safety.

“That said, while our industrial safety accident rates remain good when compared with comparable industry averages, it is disappointing that we missed the challenging targets that we set ourselves. We have a combined Sellafield Ltd and supply chain workforce of approximately 14,000 people. These people are delivering a wide range of work in a mix of office, radiological and industrial environments. During the year we had 45 recordable injuries. The majority of these injuries were strains and sprains, bone fractures and cuts, caused predominantly by slips, trips and manual handling. Our focus remains on preventing all injuries and near misses. With safety we strive for zero accidents, so there are always areas for improvement and we continually look at how we can perform better. We are continually assessing how we are performing, carrying out a wide range of internal regulation and assurance activities to help us assess how we’re doing and where we need to centre our attention and provide insights for continued improvement.”

An example of how we are striving to make these improvements is seen through the way we reacted to three International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale Level 1 events. What happened and what are we doing as a result?

“Of course we strive to have no events. We take all events seriously and address gaps and areas where we need to make improvements. There were three events which were rated as Level 1 on the International Nuclear Events Scale which means that they are classed as anomalies with no release of radioactivity or increased dose to individuals. We have investigated these events and are sharing learning across our business. The first event was a temporary power failure on 30 December 2015 which resulted in a loss of power to certain hydrogen analysers in the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo. There was no release of radioactivity or increased dose to individuals. A Board of Inquiry has been carried out and lessons learned are being shared across the organisation – focusing on equipment checks and risk mitigation measures.”

“The second incident occurred in the same facility. The silo has a forced ventilation system for hydrogen management which draws air via electrically powered fans through all compartments and then through a cleaning system before it is discharged to the atmosphere through a chimney stack. It also has an alternative ‘passive’ ventilation system installed as a safety measure in 2013 to mitigate against a prolonged loss of power.

“During routine maintenance work we exceeded the building’s 33-hour requirement for using passive ventilation only. Throughout this period of low ventilation flow, hydrogen levels were monitored throughout. There was no increase in hydrogen concentration and no increase in levels of airborne activity within the facility. An investigation has been carried out and lessons learned are being shared across the organisation – focusing on equipment checks and challenging assumptions. In March this year we carried out a new process whereby a radioactive source is temporarily introduced to a sealed cell in order to test the functionality of gamma monitors inside the cell. During the transfer of the source in to the cell one of our employees was briefly exposed to an elevated level of radioactivity. The employee is still well within our annual dose limits, which are lower than the permitted annual dose rate. Learning is being shared across the organisation and the process has been changed to include additional safeguards.

Continual improvement is a subject that Euan and his safety teams are passionate about. What improvements have they made as a result of our safety performance over the year

“As I said earlier, our industrial safety performance is an area that we’re focused on improving. We have a plan in place to enhance our industrial safety performance focusing on improving standards, preventing accidents and reducing human errors. We have increased visibility of industrial safety with dashboards across our plants highlighting performance in this area; progress against gaps is also discussed at the management daily meeting. We’re also looking to make improvements to the effectiveness of the environmental case process and increase visibility of Best Available Techniques (BAT) governance arrangements within project and programme areas. We’re developing our management system to make it easier to use and to reduce the volume of documents, simplifying the process and aligning it to our changing business needs. The biggest improvement that we as a company can make to the continued safety of the site is to ensure that we continue to focus on looking after our site assets, accelerating the clean-up of our highest hazard facilities.”

In order to retrieve waste from our legacy ponds and silos we have to do things that have never been done before – how do we balance risk and safety?

“With some of our ageing assets we can’t employ a traditional, zero- based risk approach – we can’t switch off legacy plants. Therefore, to get work done with the urgency needed, we face the challenge of doing different work in a different way. This will involve balancing the transient increase in risk against reducing the overall risk and hazard whilst maintaining control. Time at risk is a critical factor in how we plan and execute the things that we have to do. We have to develop the boundaries that define nuclear safety in this context, deliver work closer to these boundaries than we have in the past whilst providing governance that we are making the right decisions and not going too far.”

I am proud of our employees and contractors for their focus on continually improving safety.

Author's image
Ewan Hutton
EHS&Q Director