Sellafield nuclear safety and security director to leave

The top director responsible for safety and security at Sellafield is to leave the vast nuclear waste dump in north-west England, it has emerged.

Mark Neate, the Sellafield environment, safety and security director, is to leave the organisation later this year.

Neate reports directly to Euan Hutton, the interim chief executive of Sellafield, the nuclear waste and decommissioning site in Cumbria, which is also the world’s largest store of plutonium.

Multiple safety and cybersecurity failings, as well as claims of a “toxic” working culture, were revealed in Nuclear Leaks, a year-long Guardian investigation into Sellafield, last month.

The energy secretary, Claire Coutinho, said the reports were “deeply concerning” and wrote to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the state-owned body which ultimately runs Sellafield, demanding a “full explanation”.

In his response last month, the NDA chief executive, David Peattie, said there had been “necessary changes to the leadership, governance, and risk management of cyber” and responsibility for its cyber function had been moved. A new head of cybersecurity was due to take up the role this month, which Peattie said would ensure “sustained focus and leadership on this matter”.

Sellafield said Neate had responsibility for cybersecurity operations until January 2023, when control was shifted to report to its chief information officer.

It declined to say whether Neate’s departure was related to cybersecurity and safety failings at the site and said that he made the decision to leave last autumn.

Sources claimed the timing of the exit of Sellafield’s longest-serving director was related to the company’s performance in critical areas including safety and security.

After the Guardian approached Sellafield for comment on Neate’s departure, the company released a statement saying that Neate would be in post for “several more months” and was leaving after a “career dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of the Sellafield site and its workforce”.

Neate said: “I took stock at the end of the summer break and ultimately decided that 2024 was the right time for me to move on.”

Neate joined Sellafield in 2012 and has held a number of roles, including director of security and resilience. He has a military background, including as a strategist during the Iraq war and working with the US army under the then general David Petraeus. Sellafield is yet to confirm an exact leaving date for the executive.

In an interview in 2022, Neate said he was proud of Sellafield’s security record, and acknowledged his responsibilities. “If we sneeze here the whole industry gets a cold,” he said. “I do see it as fun,” he said of his job.

Sellafield has “more work to do” to reduce safety incidents, according to its annual accounts for the year to March 2023 which were published in late December. The accounts showed that annual operating costs at the taxpayer-funded site climbed by £170m to £2.5bn.

Last financial year the company pleaded guilty to a prosecution brought by the Office for Nuclear Regulation under health and safety regulations after an employee was injured falling from a scaffold ladder while carrying out repair work. The company was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay £29,210 in costs as well as a surcharge of £190.

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The GMB trade union last month called on the government and nuclear authorities to take “urgent action” to address concerns over safety at Sellafield.

Sellafield, which has more than 11,000 staff, was last year placed into a form of “special measures” for consistent failings on cybersecurity, according to sources at the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the security services.

Sellafield said it did not have evidence of a successful cyber-attack after the Guardian revealed that groups linked to Russia and China had penetrated its networks.

A spokesperson for Sellafield said: “Mark Neate has made the decision to leave Sellafield following a decade of dedicated service working as environment, safety and security director.

“Mark has brought significant value to Sellafield over the past decade, including the role that he played in running our response to the Covid crisis, and we are sad to see him go.

“He made the decision in autumn last year to leave the company, and will continue in his role to ensure a smooth transition to his successor.”

Sellafield issued a range of responses to the Guardian’s reports into its cybersecurity, safety and cultural issues, which it published online.


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