Dozens of companies prosecuted for radioactive waste and pollution offences in England and Wales over two decades

Radioactive substances are extremely toxic yet numerous companies have been prosecuted for failing to comply with strict regulations.

The laws are strict when it comes to handling radioactive substances – but that hasn’t stopped at least 33 companies, organisations and individuals in England and Scotland being prosecuted for potentially dangerous slipups over the last 20 years.

As part of NationalWorld’s week-long delve into environmental crime, we analysed Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) prosecution data on radioactive waste related offences.

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Radioactive substances are widely used at nuclear sites, in medical and healthcare settings, for industrial radiography or in research and academia. Image: ShutterstockRadioactive substances are widely used at nuclear sites, in medical and healthcare settings, for industrial radiography or in research and academia. Image: Shutterstock
Radioactive substances are widely used at nuclear sites, in medical and healthcare settings, for industrial radiography or in research and academia. Image: Shutterstock

It revealed organisations and individuals have been hit with more than £1 million in fines since 2000 for dozens of crimes including polluting the environment with radioactive material or exposing people to radiation.

Radioactive waste related prosecutions

According to data from the Environment Agency, there were at least 30 prosecutions and 84 charges relating to radioactive substances between January 2000 and May 2020 in England, with fines totalling to just under £1.4 million.

At least 27 separate companies, organisations and individuals have been prosecuted in that time.

The figures refer to offences prosecuted under the Radioactive Substances Act – which has since been superseded by the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010 and 2016 – or categorised by the Environment Agency as being related to radioactive substances regulation.

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Some of the big names prosecuted include:

Multi-nuclear plant operator Magnox Electric has been prosecuted twice, most recently in 2009 when it was fined £250,000 after allowing a tank to leak radioactive waste over a 14 year period. A division of Rolls Royce, Rolls Royce Marine Power Operations, was fined £100,000 in 2014 after workers were exposed to high doses of gamma radiation when a radioactive material was misplaced. Ford Motor Company was fined £42,000 for three separate charges in 2003 after a radioactive paint sprayer was lost. Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £10,000 for four separate charges in 2010 after shipping a damaged medical device that was leaking radioactive material to Germany, exposing people and property to radiation – and failing to act once it discovered the contamination University of Cambridge was fined £16,000 for five separate charges in 2005 over a radioactive leak in the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital

The fines do not include any other financial penalties accrued such as costs awarded to the Environment Agency.

In Scotland there have been six prosecutions under the Radioactive Substances Act resulting in fines of £30,000.

The top fine was to British Energy Generation (UK) Limited which was fined £15,000 in 2003 for dumping radioactive waste from the Torness Power Station into the North Sea.

Country Company/Organisation Charges Total fines
Scotland British Energy Generation (UK) Limited N/A £15,000
Scotland Alcan Aluminium UK Ltd N/A £5,000
Scotland British Nuclear Fuels Plc N/A £5,000
Scotland Kirstol Engineering Services Ltd N/A £3,000
Scotland Quintiles Limited N/A £2,000
Scotland Siemens Plc N/A £0.00 (Admonition)
England Automotive Lighting UK 4 £25,000
England B & W Waste Management Services 2 £4,000
England BBGR 1 £3,000
England BNFL Instruments 1 £4,000
England Bourn Hall Clinic 3 £15,000
England British Nuclear Fuels 2 £8,000
England Cat UK Services 3 £6,000
England Cleansing Service Group 3 £30,000
England Dunlop 3 £22,500
England FFEI 1 £1,400
England Ford Motor Company 3 £42,000
England G K Group 2 £2,000
England Garrard Jones Engineering 1 £6,000
England I.M.S. Environmental 1 £5,000
England Magnox Electric 11 £350,000
England Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust 4 £10,000
England Procter & Gamble Product Supply 2 £28,000
England Rigblast Energy Services 2 £15,000
England Rolls Royce Marine Power Operations 3 £100,000
England Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust 1 £15,000
England Sellafield 6 £600,000
England University Of Cambridge 5 £16,000
England Vitafibres 2 £21,500
England Weardale Castings And Engineering 4 £5,600
England Wrights Lincoln 3 £4,500

Why is there radioactive waste in the UK?

Radioactive substances are widely used at nuclear sites, in medical and healthcare settings for diagnosis or therapy, for industrial radiography such as in car plants, or in research and academia.

There are strict regulations when it comes to handling the substances and it is generally required that companies, organisations or individuals have permits when storing, using or disposing of radioactive waste or using radioactive apparatus

A generally responsible sector

The Environment Agency said Radioactive Substances Activity permit holders are generally responsible and compliant.

A spokesperson said: “We take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously. We respond to every incident reported to us and take strong enforcement action against those who break the rules. We use our monitoring to target interventions and justify investment.

“The regulations are clear and are enforced robustly – we will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account."

Due to the historic nature of the offences SEPA declined to comment.

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