Energy firm offers deal to start nuclear clean-up

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Energysolutions and its partner Toshiba have offered to kick start the UK's stalled nuclear clean-up programme - in return for being given the sites to build a new fleet of reactors.

At present French utility company EDF is leading the race to buy nuclear generator British Energy and start the new-build programme. But the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which owns the public sector's old nuclear sites, has also put these on the block for firms interested in building new reactors.

EnergySolutions, which operates the 10 old Magnox reactor sites in Britain, has teamed up with Toshiba, owner of the Westinghouse reactor design company. They have proposed taking ownership of the Magnox sites and building new reactors on them. In return, they are promising to accelerate the decommissioning effort.

The NDA has had to suspend the clean-up of the Magnox reactors to concentrate on the more toxic Sellafield site in Cumbria. But even when the programme resumes, it will take 80 years to make all the ageing plants safe.

EnergySolutions says it can complete the clean-up of some sites within a decade. Mark Morant, president of the international division of EnergySolutions, said: 'New build will gain a lot of credibility and support if we can deal with the legacy waste. We understand the public purse is under pressure. A combination of private sector financing and public sector money is a neat answer to making progress on decommissioning.'

Last week, the worst power blackouts for 20 years underlined the fragility of the UK's ageing power stations. Gordon Brown responded by saying publicly for the first time that he wanted to be 'more ambitious' than simply replacing the UK's existing nuclear capability.

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