The Misuse of Spreadsheets in the Nuclear Fuel Industry: The Falsification of Safety Critical Data Using Spreadsheets at British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL)

The Misuse of Spreadsheets in the Nuclear Fuel Industry: The Falsification of Safety Critical Data Using Spreadsheets at British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL)

Simon Thorne (Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, Wales, UK)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/joeuc.2013070102
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Abstract

This paper considers the management, technological and human factor issues that led to the BNFL fuel rod spreadsheet data falsification incident in 1999. BNFL discovered in 1999 that some data supporting quality assurance and safety processes had been falsified by BNFL workers using spreadsheets. The implication of this finding was that some of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Pellets shipped to customers in Japan for use in nuclear reactors were of an unknown mass and quality. This meant that the use of the MOX pellets fuel produced by BNFL would introduce uncontrolled factors into the safe operation of nuclear reactors. This paper will examine the production of MOX pellets at the Sellafield site, the falsification of data and the report commissioned by HM Nuclear Inspectorate. The paper will then identify a number of managerial and technological failings that led BNFL to use spreadsheets for recording such data. Finally the paper analyses other cases of spreadsheet fraud and explores some strategies for reducing the likelihood and impact of spreadsheet errors and fraud.
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1. Introduction

This paper examines the BNFL data falsification incident in detail and provides some analysis on the context of the failure at the MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF). The paper starts by explaining the nuclear fuel industry and the technical processes of manufacturing nuclear fuel. We then examine BNFL as a company and the production of Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel pellets at MDF. The data falsification incident is then examined using the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) report and other sources. The final part of the paper analyses this report and discusses the failings of BNFL management in terms of: human factors and ergonomics, management practices and technology provision for the MDF facility. The final paper considers what measures could have safeguarded against such a fraud and how these might be practically implemented.

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