SELLAFIELD has been fined £700,000 for dumping bags of radioactive waste at a landfill site.

The items should have been sent to a specialist facility which treats and stores such material.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that a number of significant management and operational failings at Sellafield led to the incorrect disposal of the waste at the Lillyhall landfill site in Workington.

This breached the conditions of its environmental permit and regulations about how dangerous goods should be handled.

Sellafield found the error was caused by the wrong configuration of a new monitor which passed the bags as ‘general’ waste, making them exempt from strict disposal controls.

The bags were retrieved from the landfill and returned to Sellafield for correct disposal. 

The incident was investigated by the Environment Agency and Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

After the five-hour hearing, Judge Peter Hughes QC also ordered the West Cumbria firm to pay £72,635.34 in court costs.

Ian Parker, Nuclear Regulation Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “Our overriding aim in regulating the nuclear industry is to protect people and the environment from the release of radioactive wastes into the environment.

“While this incident did not lead to any significant harm being caused to the public or to the environment, the failings by Sellafield Ltd that led to the incident were serious and we consider that on this occasion, Sellafield Limited fell well short of the high standards which we expect from them.

“For us, the most important thing is that Sellafield Ltd has learnt the lessons from this and put improvements in place to minimise the chances of this type of incident happening again.”

Ian Barlow, from the Office for Nuclear Regulation, added: “We require the nuclear industry to control its hazards and ensure it has effective procedures in place for transporting and disposing of all forms of radioactive material, including waste.

“That hasn't happened here: a failure in leadership and management resulted in the uncontrolled transport and disposal of low-level waste in the public domain.

“Our decision to prosecute, and the £700,000 fine imposed in court today, shows that this will not be tolerated.

“Where it is necessary to do so, ONR will not hesitate to take enforcement action to ensure the protection of people and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry.”