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For the week of Mar. 1 through Mar. 7, 2000

Idaho incinerator company's British site criticized for safety


IDAHO FALLS—The company building a nuclear waste incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory is mired in a widening international scandal for falsifying records on nuclear fuel shipments.

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. acknowledged last week that workers at its Sellafield site in England falsified records on a shipment of nuclear fuel to a German reactor in 1996.

That follows disclosures last year that workers faked data on batches of fuel headed to Japan. That country, which had been British Nuclear Fuel's biggest customer for the mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel, has banned utilities from accepting any more fuel shipments from the company.

"It does lead to troubling questions, which we readily admit,'' said British Nuclear Fuel's spokesman David Campbell in Washington, D.C. "We've been able to determine that our system worked and all the fuel was safe.''

The company also was hit with two stinging reports last week, following inspections at Sellafield by the arm of the British government that regulates nuclear worker safety.

The British Nuclear Installations Inspectorate found a poor safety culture in many areas of the site, in which workers were reluctant to question decisions and some incidents that could have jeopardized worker safety were not reported.

In some cases, managers condoned letting plants operate while multiple alarms were showing, the report said.

It also said that managers were overloaded with cost-cutting and downsizing initiatives that took time away from making sure plants were operating properly.

Opponents of a proposed nuclear waste incinerator and treatment plant in Idaho, which would be built by British Nuclear Fuel's American subsidiary, say the company's track record in England shows it cannot be trusted.

The company was awarded a $1.2 billion contract to build a treatment plant, which would include a nuclear waste incinerator, at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in 1997.

Critics say incineration, which destroys hazardous chemicals in the waste but releases air emissions in the process, is the wrong technology and British Nuclear Fuels is the wrong company for the job.


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