Probe as N-plant train collides with car

AN INVESTIGATION was under way last night into collision on a remote rail crossing between a car and a locomotive pulling an empty nuclear waste flask.

AN INVESTIGATION was under way last night into collision on a remote rail crossing between a car and a locomotive pulling an empty nuclear waste flask.

The car driver escaped unhurt in the crash which happened on a manually-operated crossing of a private lane at Knodishall, near Saxmundham at around 9.20am yesterday.

Only minor damage was sustained by the car and neither the locomotive nor the steel-plated flask - on their way to the Sizewell A nuclear power plant to collect highly radioactive spent fuel rods - were damaged

But the train was held up for more than two hours while accident investigators carried out an assessment.

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Late into the afternoon officials from Network Rail were still at the scene along with members of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, an independent Government inspectorate.

Anti-nuclear campaigners claimed the accident showed the potential dangers of transporting highly radioactive nuclear waste.

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But Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said he was satisfied that the correct procedures had been carried out following the accident and there had been no question of any danger to local people.

The strength of the flasks had been shown in the 1980s in a demonstration involving an impact from a 100mph diesel locomotive.

“I do not believe any accident on this line is going to pose any danger to the public,” Mr Gummer added.

The level crossing where the accident happened is known as Batt's Black House Crossing No 1, and is across a farm track with only one nearby property - an empty cottage.

A man living at a bungalow about a mile from the accident scene said he did not hear or see the collision but guessed something was wrong as the train had remained at the level crossing for so long.

"We knew it would be a train carrying a nuclear flask as they are the only ones that use this line but nobody is worried,” he said.

An average of one or two rail transports are arranged each week to take spent fuel rods from Sizewell A to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing works in Cumbria.

The trains are run by Direct Rail Services (DRS), a freight company employed by the nuclear industry.

In a statement issued by the public following the accident it said: “The train was carrying an empty flask at the time and DRS can confirm that there has been no damage to the train and the flask.

“The train was not de-railed and was reported to be travelling at slow speed at the time. There was no injury to anyone.”

Eva Foran DRS spokeswoman, said the transport of spent nuclear fuel rods was “very, very safe” and staff operated to a strict code.

She understood that the manually-operated rail crossing barrier had been up and that the car had been moving at the time of the collision.

James Tott, spokesman for the British Nuclear Group, which runs Sizewell A, said: “DRS is responsible for fuel transport and British Transport Police will verify the facts of the incident.

“The fuel flask was empty and undamaged and we are happy that no-one was injured.”

But Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, said: “This is further evidence that transporting high level waste is a perilous matter.

“The flask could have been loaded and if involved in collision with a larger vehicle it could have been de-railed with incalculable results, perhaps leading to a large scale release of high level radioactivity.”

Anti nuclear groups have claimed the transport of the rods is inherently unsafe and is vulnerable to terrorist attack.

But the nuclear industry has pointed to its exemplary safety record with no incidents of a flask being penetrated following an accident over a period of more than 40 years.

Flasks in the UK have travelled over a total of eight million miles without any incident involving a release of radioactivity.

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