Sellafield hits the restart button
“Unless there’s a breakthrough in the research around Covid-19, we estimate full operations will not resume for many months,” says Martin Chown, Sellafield Ltd’s chief executive | Credit: Sellafield
The nuclear site begins a cautious exit from lockdown.
Sellafield has faced many challenges in its 70-year history.
But few have been more demanding than the coronavirus pandemic.
As the scale of the crisis became clear in March, plans for how the site would weather it were already well-advanced.
Its large operating plants were shut down on 18 March. Five days later, the majority of its 11,500 employers were told to work from home.
Decommissioning projects were halted, construction work paused, and all but the most important safety activities were suspended.
Usually home to between 7,000 and 8,000 workers, daily attendance was reduced to just 1,500.
But Sellafield cannot stand still for long. Decommissioning is a continual process. If work is delayed for a prolonged period, older buildings can deteriorate and raise the risk of a nuclear incident.
By mid-May, a cautious and controlled operational restart was well under way. And a month later, 30 of the 47 operations earmarked for early resumption were up and running.
We have always said we will only progressively restart certain operations when safe to do so.
Workfaces will continue to reopen slowly and cautiously but coronavirus will cast a long shadow. Social distancing and safe working arrangements will limit the maximum capacity of the site to up to 4,000 people until the autumn.
Martin Chown, Sellafield Ltd’s chief executive, said: “I’m delighted with the progress the company is making, and we are currently in the third phase of our six phase restart plan.
“We have always said we will only progressively restart certain operations when safe to do so.
“The excellent preparation and risk analysis work we have done has given us the confidence to restart the most important work which is of national interest. Safety is in our DNA. If any organisation can work safely around Covid-19, we can.
“We know we can only be successful if we have the trust of our stakeholders. For that reason, we’ve prioritised openness and transparency throughout. We have explained our decision-making and ensured we have the understanding and support of our workforce, our regulators, and our community every step of the way. We’ve also been working closely with our supply chain and trade unions to ensure continuity of our critical services while maintaining value for money for our business and the UK taxpayer.
“A return to normal is still some way off. Unless there’s a breakthrough in the research around Covid-19, we estimate full operations will not resume for many months.”
Sellafield’s responsibilities have never stopped at its perimeter fence. The business has always been an unwavering supporter of its local community. And the Coronavirus pandemic is no different.
More than 250 Sellafield Ltd employees have been carrying our voluntary work including support roles in the NHS, delivering food and medicines to vulnerable residents, manning an emergency telephone helpline, and even running online science classes for children.
Additionally the company has provided thousands of items of life-saving personal protective equipment. In April, it announced it was gifting 20,000 gowns to the NHS alongside its owner the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
Mr Chown added: “I’m proud of the way our company has responded. The pandemic has been a profound challenge for every industry, every business, and every community but I think we’ve risen to it.
“We’re incredibly grateful to our owner the NDA. Its support throughout has allowed us to balance our contribution to the local response with our nationally-important mission to keep Sellafield safe and secure.”