Reactors at Chapelcross nuclear power station are to be shut down in a bid to locate and recover highly radioactive fuel rods which were dropped down a 50ft shaft.
British Nuclear Fuels, which operates the plant near Anan in Dumfries and Galloway, now faces a carpeting from the Government for attempting to cover up details of the incident.
When the Sunday Herald revealed the accident last week, three days after it happened, BNFL insisted that 24 fuel rods contained in a shielded basket had only fallen a few feet onto the floor out of a remote-controlled arm. It has since emerged that the fuel rods fell more than 50ft into a disposal chute and that 12 of them are still missing.
Brian Wilson, Westminster Energy Minister, has summoned the BNFL chairman Hugh Collum and chief executive Norman Askew to a meeting this week to explain why the company attempted to cover up the seriousness of the situation. 'I will expect an explanation of why the initial information about what happened at Chapelcross seems to have fallen some way short of the reality,' said Wilson. '
The government, which owns BNFL, is waiting for a report from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) on the causes of the accident before considering its next move.
A spokesman for BNFL said closing the reactors will enable the station to concentrate on the fuel recovery programme. 'We have been able to locate half of the rods that have been dislodged and we desperately need to find the other 12,' he said.
Nuclear experts estimate that the 40-year-old nuclear plant could be shut down for more than two months while the company comes up with a recovery plan that satisfies the NII on safety grounds.