Court fines British Nuclear Group Sellafield today after it pleads guilty to health and safety breaches that caused a leak of radioactive liquid in 2005

British Nuclear Group Sellafield has been fined £500,000 plus costs of over £67,000 after pleading guilty to breaching health and safety law.

The sentencing followed a Health and Safety Executive prosecution after the discovery in April 2005 of a large leak of highly radioactive liquid within Sellafield's reprocessing plant. Government-owned British Nuclear Group pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches this summer.

After today’s hearing at Carlisle Crown Court, Dr Mike Weightman, HSE's director of nuclear safety and HM chief inspector of nuclear installations, said: "Our extensive investigation has shown that British Nuclear Group Sellafield Ltd fell significantly short of the required standards for a considerable period of time before the leak was discovered. Although we stress that there is no evidence of any harm to workers or the public, the leak being contained within a stainless steel lined, heavily shielded cell, there had been a significant prolonged reduction in attention to the high standards demanded, something we are not prepared to tolerate.”

Weightman added: "For the wider nuclear industry, our message is clear: high standards are demanded of the nuclear industry. Industry must continue to embrace high standards of design, construction, operation and maintenance and vigorously strive to maintain them at all times."

About 83,000 litres of acid, containing 20 tonnes of uranium and 160 kg of plutonium escaped from a ruptured pipe into a sealed concrete holding cell. It is possible that the spillage had gone unnoticed for eight months before being discovered in April last year.

No-one was injured and no radioactive material escaped into the atmosphere during the incident. The Health and Safety Executive brought the prosecution arguing the firm failed to ensure safety systems were in good working order and that radioactive material was effectively contained.