The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says while the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Limited have made progress with reducing delays and expected cost overruns on 14 major projects at Sellafield, with a combined lifetime cost estimate of £6 billion, there is still a long way to go.
Most major projects at Sellafield are still significantly delayed, with expected combined cost overruns of £913 million. The NDA has not systematically reviewed why these projects keep running into difficulties, or analysed properly the constraints it says prevent them from making faster progress.
Until this work is completed, the Committee will remain sceptical about the long-term strategy to decommission Sellafield. And despite this Committee’s recommendation nearly five years ago, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has still not decided what to do with the plutonium stockpile currently stored at Sellafield.
Given the scale and unique challenges at Sellafield, the NDA must have a firm grip of the work that takes place on the site. This was not the case with the NDA’s recently failed contract to decommission its Magnox sites.
PAC Deputy Chair, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP said:
“The Government’s oversight of the NDA’s performance could and should be much better, particularly on projects at Sellafield that cost a considerable amount of public money. BEIS needs to seriously get a grip on its oversight of nuclear decommissioning in this country.”
The Committee’s findings make yet more dreary reading for the UK taxpayer says Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE). The costs described as ‘a misuse of public funds’ by a spokesman for the report’s authors the Government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC report pulls few punches in its criticism of the way the NDA is managing many of the major projects needed to clean up Sellafield.
The site currently receives some £2bn of public money every year and, over the next 100+ years of decommissioning is expected to cost a total of £91bn. In a slight but revealing departure from the pattern of previous reports, PAC raises the spectre of the UK’s plutonium stockpile (40% of the world’s global stock) and the latest thinking by Government on its long-term plutonium management options. CORE says an update on its plutonium plans is currently being finalised by the NDA and could be published soon.
The PAC report reveals the following:
· Major projects are expected to cost over £900 million more than originally budgeted and be subjected to delays of over 13 years.
· The NDA has cancelled three projects since 2012 after spending £586 million of taxpayers’ money on them.
· Two of the above projects – the silo direct encapsulation project and the box transfer facility were cancelled after the NDA projected a combined cost increase of £2.1 billion and a combined delay of nine years.
· The NDA’s programme to deal with the plutonium stockpile in the near term is late and its costs are increasing.
· The concerning discovery last year (NAO report 20.6.18) that some plutonium canisters have been decaying faster than expected is made worse by the fact that the NDA’s project to repackage these canisters is at least two years late and expected to cost over £1.5 billion, £1 billion more than it first expected.
· The series of contingency arrangements to manage these decaying canisters are short-term fixes for a long-term problem and BEIS has yet to set out clearly what its strategy is and the associated costs to the taxpayer.
· BEIS has still not decided between the two plutonium management options available – its long-term storage prior to final disposal as waste in a geological disposal facility (GDF) that has yet to be located or constructed, or its reuse as fuel in new nuclear power stations – but has told the PAC Committee that ‘it is not comfortable with any of the potential options for managing plutonium other than disposing it in the GDF’ (2)