UK nuclear clean-up bill rises by £6.6bn

Monday, June 23, 2014

The bill faced by taxpayers for the clean-up of Sellafield and Britain’s other nuclear sites will be £6.6bn more than previously thought, in a sign of the challenges the country faces in dealing with its atomic legacy.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said it had raised its best estimate for the undiscounted cost of the clean-up over the next 120 years to £110bn, a 7 per cent increase, with Sellafield alone accounting for £79.1bn of that. It also raised its total discounted estimate of the costs by 10 per cent to £64.9bn.

John Clarke, the NDA’s chief executive, said the increase reflected the cost of additional work at Sellafield, which with an annual budget of £1.8bn is the largest of the 19 sites for which the agency is responsible.

“In Sellafield we’ve got large concrete boxes that had radioactive waste tipped into them from the 1950s,” he said. “Now we have to figure out what’s in these facilities, and how to get it out and treat it.”

He described the process as a “journey of discovery”. In that context, “it is hard to give a firm estimate of costs and schedule”.

A sprawling nuclear site on the windswept coast of Cumbria, Sellafield began life in the early 1950s making plutonium for nuclear weapons, and later that decade became the location of Calder Hall, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. Today the site’s main focus is on managing waste.

The NDA’s revised cost estimates for the clean-up come in its annual report and accounts, which were presented to parliament on Monday.

They will be more unwelcome news for Nuclear Management Partners, the consortium managing the Sellafield clean-up.

Made up of URS of the US, France’s Areva and Amec of the UK, NMP was handed the £22bn, 17-year contract to decommission Sellafield in 2008. The NDA had the right to terminate the contract after five years, but last year decided to keep it in place.

The consortium has come under fierce attack from politicians over its record. In February, the Public Accounts Committee attacked it for big delays and cost over-runs on a number of big projects at the Sellafield site. In 2012, the National Audit Office described NMP’s record as “poor”.

Mr Clarke said the NDA had decided that staying with NMP gave them “the greatest likelihood of achieving our objectives”. But he admitted that he was “not thrilled” with certain aspects of the consortium’s performance, which he described as a “mixed bag”.

The problems with NMP are likely to persist. In its annual report, the NDA said the scrutiny brought to bear on the consortium “will drive improved performance”, “but in the short to medium term, it is likely that cost and schedule will continue to be significant issues on the more complex projects”.

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