Cost of nuclear clean-up rises to £73bn

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The official cost of cleaning up 20 of Britain's nuclear facilities will be more than £73bn, 16% higher than estimated last year, according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority yesterday. The latest rise in clean-up costs came as the government completed consultation on whether to proceed with a new generation of atomic plants, with one potential operator arguing there was a "moral imperative" to allow more to be built.

  • Greenpeace puts full cost at £100bn
  • Eon insists there is moral imperative for new plants

Terry Macalister, Thursday October 11, 2007, The Guardian

The NDA blamed the soaring cost estimates for clean-up on obtaining more detailed estimates for dismantling buildings and clearing sites from individual operators managing locations such as Sellafield in Cumbria for the state-owned agency.

Greenpeace claimed last night that the cost of nuclear clean-up would be closer to £100bn because there would be a £10bn bill for the disposal of legacy waste, a further £9bn for getting rid of uranium, plutonium and spent fuel plus £5bn from the costs of dismantling British Energy plants.

The NDA says the £73bn in its accounts is less relevant than the "discounted" figure of £37bn which takes account of inflation and other factors, though it admits even that number has increased by 22% since it was calculated a year ago.

"There is always going to be a significant degree of uncertainty when you are dealing with trying to assess the cost of work that will be done over 100 years. The majority of the increases are connected with Sellafield where more accurate assessments are coming in on the cost of managing contaminated land and dealing with spent fuel left in ponds and silos for the last 40 to 50 years," said a spokesman.

As those dealing with clean-up and decommissioning get closer to carrying out the work of bringing down the buildings and storing radioactive materials, it becomes easier to assess the cost more accurately, added the spokesman, who said "discounted" costs at Sellafield were up by £4bn, Magnox sites had risen by £2.5bn and Dounreay by £800m.

This month the NDA put a halt to competitive tendering of the Magnox South management licence in response to a lack of interest from the private sector. The authority said yesterday it expected to come up with a new policy initiative, probably early in the new year, and admitted it was considering bundling up more sites together to make them more attractive.

Fears that the NDA budget was going to be cut in the comprehensive spending review appear to have been misplaced, with Alistair Darling announcing a further £338m for 2010/2011. Some of this will be needed to account for a shortfall in income from the Thorp reprocessing plant, closed after a fire and so not able to earn an expected £112m annual income.

Greenpeace said the nuclear industry has been characterised by soaring cost estimates. "I have a feeling that the figures are going to continue to ratchet upwards not downwards as the industry has a history of cost increases not decreases," said Jean McSorley, a consultant to the group. "The NDA says it is going to save money through efficiency gains, but the lack of interest by companies in the Magnox South tender suggests it will have to make profit margins more attractive for them." Eon, one of the largest gas and electricity providers in Britain, said last night that the government should give the green light to new nuclear - and quickly.

"New nuclear power stations can play a significant role in stabilising and then reducing carbon emissions, which is a moral imperative in its own right if we are not going to leave an even more severely impaired climate to future generations. The risks ... are small when compared with the benefits that can be gained now and for the future."

If new nuclear power stations were to fill the expected gap in generation as existing plant retires, there needs to be an "ambitious but achievable" timetable for planning and licensing. "To achieve operation of the first power station in 2017, the consents and licences need to be in place by the end of 2012." This could only be done by encouraging further engagement and transparency by regulators so more resources needed to be made immediately available to the regulators, the utility argued.

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