Nuclear firm Sellafield has been fined £700,000 and ordered to pay more than £72,000 costs for sending bags of radioactive waste to a landfill site.
The error was attributed to failures in leadership and management at the site.
The bags, which contained waste such as plastic, tissues and clothing, should have been sent to a specialist facility that treats and stores low-level radioactive waste. But instead a number of mistakes led to them being sent to Lillyhall landfill site which deals with conventional waste in Workington, Cumbria.
This breached the conditions of Sellafield’s environmental permit and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations.
At Carlisle Crown Court the firm was fined £700,000 and ordered to pay an additional £72,635.34 costs.
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 Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) carried out an investigation and the bags were retrieved from the landfill and returned to Sellafield.
They were then disposed of correctly.
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 Ltd fell well short of the high standards which we expect from them.”
Mr Parker added: “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, said: “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 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.”