We are keen to hear from more whistleblowers at the Sellafield nuclear power plant who want to raise concerns about issues at the site.
The Daily Mail newspaper investigation revealed a number of disturbing allegations.
We want more whistleblowers to come forward to share their experiences (good and bad) of the site so we can build up a clear picture of what is going on.
The Daily Mail newspaper investigation led to the following article that can be viewed in full here:
Whistleblowers say Sellafield has a ‘toxic’ culture, with women routinely harassed and propositioned by senior male employees while homophobia and racist comments are ignored.
Even the chief executive has admitted he is ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ of what is going on. In a video message to staff, leaked to the Daily Mail, Paul Foster disclosed that a survey had found one in 20 of the 10,000 workforce were being bullied or harassed. One in four felt it was tolerated by bosses.
Last night, MPs and unions condemned the findings and called for an urgent meeting with bosses. Some employees said they feared safety at the site, which houses the largest inventory of untreated nuclear waste in the world, could be compromised.
The nuclear processing plant in Cumbria is owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, a non-departmental government body responsible for winding down and cleaning the site by 2120. It is run by not-for-profit Sellafield Ltd, which has a £2billion-a-year budget. Employees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Mail how women were harassed and subject to vulgar jokes and comments.
They said racism and homophobia were commonplace but ignored, while one building on the sprawling site is known as ‘Totty Towers’.
Mr Foster, who has been in charge for nearly five years, released the video on Sellafield’s intranet after the internal survey revealed high levels of bullying.
It was passed to the Daily Mail by employees.
In the video, Mr Foster – who earns a six-figure salary – said the survey garnered ‘some very startling’ feedback. ‘Frankly we are a bit ashamed and embarrassed of what is happening in our organisation,’ he said.
The survey found that a quarter of employees believed bullying, harassment and offensive comments were tolerated. Only 17 per cent thought staff were promoted on the basis of ability.
Stormy past of nuclear plant
Built on the site of a former Second World War munitions factory, it was originally named Windscale
It was chosen to produce plutonium for Britain’s weapons programme in 1947
Its Calder Hall reactors were the first in the world to use nuclear fission to generate electricity on a large scale
In October 1957, a fire in one tower spread radioactive contamination across the UK and Europe. It remains the UK’s worst nuclear incident and made Sellafield a target for environmental protest
Since the 1960s the site has been reprocessing nuclear fuel from around the globe
Electricity production ended in 2003. Work is now centred on reprocessing waste and decommissioning reactors and plants
Mr Foster told staff: ‘I don’t want to be a part of any business that behaves in the way we are at the moment and in the 18 years I have worked here, I don’t think you do too. As such we won’t tolerate bullying and harassment.’
Initiatives he has since introduced include speeding up investigations, setting up an independent complaints line for staff and hiring independent HR advisers.
But whistleblowers said changes were too slow, with anyone accused of bullying or harassment simply being moved to another sector. One employee said: ‘Paul Foster has been the chief executive for nearly five years – why did he not know about this before and what has he done?
‘I am genuinely worried that something big is going to happen here and if it does it will contaminate a large part of Europe.’
John Woodcock, independent MP for Barrow-in-Furness, said the results of the survey were ‘deeply alarming’ and called on the Government to intervene.
‘Very serious questions need to be asked... not just by Sellafield, but by the Government because billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being invested in decommissioning Sellafield,’ he said.
Peter McIntosh, national officer for energy at Unite, said he would call an urgent meeting of union reps on the site. ‘If this report is accurate, then what has been occurring is entirely unacceptable,’ he said. ‘Sellafield must adopt a zero tolerance policy with regards to bullying and harassment and those guilty of such practices must be properly dealt with.’
Tory MP Trudy Harrison, whose Copeland constituency includes Sellafield and who previously worked there as a receptionist, said: ‘People should not have to accept harassment and abuse in the workplace and I’m sad to say it was condoned during my time at Sellafield. You just have to look at the top board to see that there are not enough women and we’ve got to ask why.’
The scandal comes after Sellafield was ordered to pay almost £500,000 for health and safety failures that saw a worker exposed to eight times the annual limit of plutonium when a corroded probe punctured his hand through a protective glove in February 2017. Last year, the Government was warned by MPs that it must ‘get a grip’ on spiralling costs and project delays at the site.
In a statement, Mr Foster said safety and security were Sellafield’s ‘overriding priorities’. He added: ‘Like most large employers, we have experienced allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination in our workforce.
‘We do not tolerate this behaviour. We take equality, diversity, and inclusion extremely seriously.
‘That’s why we commissioned a survey in 2017. What we found was disappointing and we’ve been very open about that. However, these results did not show a negative impact on site safety. We’ve since drawn up an action plan which we’re delivering.’
‘Workers call site Totty Towers... it’s just vile’
I believe there is a toxic culture at the heart of Sellafield. One of the sites is known as Totty Towers because that is where most of the women work.
The way they are viewed is like something out of the Dark Ages. Women are subject to innuendo, overtly sexual comments and inappropriate touching.
I went to one site where for the first time in my life I actually felt intimidated. One woman bent down to plug in her laptop under the table and her manager held her head down and said, ‘While you are down there, love, can you just whip round and do us all a favour’.
An Eastern European employee was told to go back to where he was from, following Brexit. I also heard young graduates talk of shocking stories of sexism, bullying, racism, homophobia. It was vile.
The site is huge, like a small town. But the first thing that hits you when you start to work here is the incredible lack of diversity. There are hardly any people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Swearing is rampant. I have also heard some horrific comments made about people who are gay.
But they don’t address the bullies – they just move them around. I am deeply concerned because this is not a toy factory, it is the most dangerous nuclear facility in the country.
If you have employees who are unhappy, they are clearly not going to be working at their best. It is such a closeted, insular organisation. Everyone knows everyone.
They don’t address poor performance because they will be addressing a best mate’s cousin or their dad’s friends.
The bottom line about Sellafield is that its workers are paid very well in comparison to other industries in the area, but they are treated very badly.
So they put up with it. But there is a very unhappy workforce – and I believe it is a public safety issue.
I am genuinely worried that something big is going to happen here and if it does it will contaminate a large part of Europe.
It is an open secret how bad things are. But nothing ever changes.