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N-train derailment leads to call for greater openness

By Will Clark

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Nigel Lowe, Dounreay director of the NDA, said investigations are being carried out into what caused the incident.
Nigel Lowe, Dounreay director of the NDA, said investigations are being carried out into what caused the incident.

A CALL is being made for the public to be better informed in the aftermath of accidents involving trains used to move nuclear materials.

It follows last week’s derailment in the north of England of two wagons which were carrying three empty flasks to the giant reprocessing complex at Sellafield.

Highland anti-nuclear campaigner Tor Justad claims the incident involving flasks which had been imported from Japan supports concerns about the rail shipments which have been hauling spent fuel from Dounreay to the Cumbrian plant.

An emergency was declared after the wagons left the tracks at Salthouse Junction, near Barrow station on September 16 while travelling at 5mph. Nobody was injured in the incident, which resulted in five fire teams being scrambled, along with radiation monitoring personnel from Sellafield.

Mr Justad, who wants the Dounreay runs stopped on safety grounds, said last week’s accident had caused a lot of concern in Cumbria.

He said the public should be told of the procedures in place, should a similar incident occur.

"Nobody was injured, but it proved accidents do happen," he said at Wednesday evening’s meeting of Dounreay Stakeholder Group.

"Post Fukashima, there has been a review of nuclear matters and emergency planning related to transport.

"There was alarm in the local community due to the amount of emergency service vehicles at the scene.

"It illustrates the need for more public information to be available so people know what is likely to happen."

Nigel Lowe, Dounreay director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), said investigations are being carried out into what caused the incident, with the results being made public in October. He said this would also include how the public would be notified of any future such incidents.

"The Rail Accident Investigation branch is investigating what happened and will produce a report for publication in the next two to three weeks," added Mr Lowe.

"The communication strategy will be part of the investigation done by the rail authority and hopefully that will be addressed in the report."

The 11th shipment of fast reactor breeder material was transported from Dounreay to Sellafield this week by operator Direct Rail Services (DRS) – a wholly owned subsidiary of the NDA.

Initially, a total of 90 packages were to be transported between the two sites but in February, it was announced the remainder of Dounreay’s so-called "exotic" fuel would also be transported to Sellafield.

Nuclear material left over from Dounreay’s research work is being returned to the NDA’s national fuel stocks as part of the site’s clean up and closure.

The material – rods made from natural uranium that were irradiated inside the reactor to breed new plutonium fuel for power stations – belongs to the NDA. Sellafield has facilities to recover the fuel for its possible re-use in power stations.

Dounreay managing director Mark Rouse was made aware of what happened in Cumbria and has sought re-assurances from DRS that there would be no repeat of last week’s accident.

"The derailment was flagged up to us immediately. Work was stopped regarding shipments until we received assurances that it was safe to transport this material by rail," he said.

"When in doubt we stop and we ask questions before we start again."

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