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Lorry leaked radioactive beam

Lorry leaked radioactive beam for three hours

A highly radioactive beam was emitted from a protective flask as it was driven 130 miles, for three hours, across northern England on a lorry, a court heard yesterday.

It was "pure good fortune" no one was dangerously

contaminated when a "plug" was left off a 2.5 ton container carrying radioactive material on a lorry, Leeds Crown Court was told. The flask belonging to AEA Technology was being used to transport a piece of decommissioned cancer treatment equipment from Cookridge Hospital, Leeds, to the Sellafield complex, Cumbria on March 11, 2002.

A judge was told how the container was "found to be emitting a narrow beam of radiation, of a very high dose rate, vertically down from that package base".

He heard how the leak was present at the hospital and Windscale as well as during the journey between the two.

Mark Harris, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said: "Through pure good fortune no one involved in the removal, containment and transfer of the source may have been directly exposed to the beam.

"The risk of such exposure was undoubtedly present - at Cookridge, during the journey and at Windscale.

"That occurred because a shield plug - an integral part of the approved packaging in which the source was required to be carried - had been omitted. We say the incident was serious."

Mr Harris said the radiation dose rates measured at Windscale "were in the order of 100 to 1,000 times above what would normally be considered a very high dose rate and measurement was beyond the capabilities of normal hand-held monitoring equipment."

Mr Harris told the court it was fortunate the beam had gone vertically down. If an accident had caused it to emit horizontally the beam would have emitted dangerous radiation for 980ft.

AEA Technology, a privatised arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, has admitted a series of breaches of Health and Safety regulations, the Ionising Radiations Regulations and the Radioactive Material (Road Transport) Regulations.

The firm was due to be sentenced at Leeds Crown Court yesterday, but Judge Norman Jones decided that he needed more time to read papers and postponed setting the level of the fine until Monday. The HSE has already asked for costs of 151,323.

John Hand, QC, defending, said that the company lost 1 million following the incident as it reorganised the subsidiary involved, which it has now sold off.

Mr Hand admitted that employees of the firm had been "relaxed and somewhat cavalier" at the hospital and had even ticked forms to say they had completed tasks which they had not. Judge Jones said: "We have to remember we're dealing with the movement in public areas and long distance movement, with very, very dangerous materials and therefore the greatest of care is demanded of those engaged in that movement."

But Judge Norman Jones decided he needed more time to read papers and postponed setting the level of the fine until Monday.

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