Highly critical report by MPs over £65.5bn cost of operating nuclear waste storage at Sellafield

Tim Lezard

radioactive logoNuclear industry unions have welcomed a call for closer scrutiny of the salaries and work of directors and major contractors at Sellafield.

Sellafield is the largest and most hazardous nuclear site in the UK, located in an area of historically high unemployment in west Cumbria.

MPs have expressed concern about the spiraling cost of containing radioactive waste at the site: £1.6bn per year.

They say it is home to “an extraordinary accumulation of hazardous waste, much of it stored in outdated nuclear facilities”.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee found the total lifetime cost of decommissioning the site has now reached £67.5bn, with no indication of when that figure will stop rising.

Prospect, which represents more than 4,000 staff working for Sellafield’s owners, agreed it is time for closer scrutiny of the company and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, an arm’s-length body of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, which was set up in 2005.

National secretary Mike Graham said: “The select committee is right to call on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to demonstrate what value it is getting for the payments made to Nuclear Management Partners Ltd (NMP).

“But it fails to acknowledge the positives NMP have brought to Sellafield, not least of which is the technical knowledge and expertise gained from nuclear sites across the world.

“We also believe that, given the complexity of the safe decommissioning of the site, no Parent Body Organisation could have fully appreciated the scale of the challenges Sellafield presents until they were in post.

“We need more evidence that the salaries paid to NMP senior directors match their actual performance within the company.”

Critics say what was intended to be a flagship contract for private sector involvement in the UK nuclear industry now looks like a shambles, with those most heavily criticised by the MPs being the French company Areva, the US contractor URS and UK-based Amec.

The GMB is calling for urgent talks with the Department for Energy in the wake of the PAC report.

GMB national secretary for energy Gary Smith said: “GMB has been saying for some time that this contract is in real trouble.

“The bill for Sellafield and the wages for the top bosses have certainly improved but little else has at the site.

”There is an increasing lack of trust in the consortium that runs the site both amongst the workforce and the wider community.

”There needs to be immediate change at the top of the consortium and a radical re evaluation of the piecemeal hiving off of the nuclear sector to private sector companies that are clearly ill equipped to cope and have little interest in ensuring Britain has world-class nuclear facilities.”

Under current plans, the construction of a new long-term nuclear waste store will not be completed before 2040.

The Public Accounts Committee said public expenditure on the scale of that at Sellafield – calculated as the equivalent of £1,000 per year from every person in the UK – should be used to secure substantial wider economic benefit in an area of high need and deprivation.

The Committee chair Margaret Hodge MP said: “Of the 14 current major projects, 12 were behind schedule in the last year and five of those were over budget.

“Furthermore, now that Cumbria County Council has ruled out West Cumbria as the site of the proposed geological disposal facility, a solution to the problem of long-term storage of the waste is as far away as ever.

“Taxpayers will have to foot the bill.

“Private contractors who gain contracts take no risk because of the uncertainties that persist.”

The MPs say all contracts at Sellafield need to be strictly controlled so that payments are not made where companies have not delivered work on time or on budget.

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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