Sellafield nuclear waste site to close due to coronavirus

Britain’s nuclear waste site will shut its reprocessing plant at Sellafield after more than 8% of its staff began self-isolating to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The controlled shutdown of the Magnox plant in Cumbria will begin in the next few days after an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus within Sellafield’s 11,500 staff.

The company told employees on Tuesday evening that it would “scale back some operations” to “make best use of available people”.

Sellafield revealed last weekend that a staff member had tested positive for coronavirus, and on Monday it confirmed that another employee with suspected Covid-19 had begun self-isolation.

The number of Sellafield employees self-isolating has quickly climbed to about 1,000.

A Sellafield spokesman said the number in self-isolation included people with symptoms of the virus as well as those with underlying health conditions who undertaking social distancing.

In an open letter to staff, Sellafield’s safety director, Mark Neate, said: “We have a critical mission so our response must ensure the safety and security of the public, our workforce and protection of the environment at all times.”

The company has plans for remote working for some staff to help limit the spread of the virus but Neate said many employees would need to keep coming in to work.

“Given the nature of our work many of you will need to continue to attend your workplace – either because your work directly impacts nuclear safety or security, or because you provide a business continuity or support function and are unable to work remotely,” he said.

The Magnox plant is to close permanently this year. It began reprocessing waste from Britain’s first nuclear reactors in 1964 to separate the uranium and plutonium, which can still be reused from the spent radioactive waste.

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