No danger to Ireland from recent incident at THORP but RPII questions closure timetable

Date released: May 11 2005

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has warmly welcomed an invitation to address the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government today to discuss its September 2004 visit to the Sellafield reprocessing plant in the United Kingdom. The recent incident at the THORP reprocessing facility is expected to be one of the key issues raised by the Committee.

On April 21st, the Institute was notified in writing of the incident, in which approximately 15,000 gallons of highly radioactive liquor leaked into a sealed 'cell' in the thermal oxide reprocessing plant (THORP). The cell is now filled with highly radioactive liquor to a depth of about ten inches. The high radiation levels within the cell suggest that clean-up operations and the repair of the damaged pipe will require the use of remote control equipment. The Institute was informed there was no release of radioactivity to the environment and no abnormal activities were detected outside the unit. The Institute is continuing to monitor developments.

THORP has been temporarily closed down and reprocessing operations cannot restart until approval is received from the UK regulators. The period of closure is expected to last a number of months.

In the longer term, however, the temporary closure of THORP may impact on the schedule for the completion of the current reprocessing contracts in 2010, which could potentially result in increased discharges beyond 2010.

Since first notification of the incident the Institute has posed a number of questions on the reports which were duly answered by the regulatory authorities in the United Kingdom. The Institute is being fully briefed as information becomes available.