The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Forum has written to the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, over concerns it has with the operation of the Dounreay nuclear decommissioning contract, following recent revelations made in a BBC Radio 4 documentary.
In August, the Cabinet Secretary raised serious concerns about the environmental and safety record of the Dounreay nuclear plant in a letter to the UK energy minister Richard Harrington. The letter complained of a disappointing lack of progress across a range of projects, and how that sits oddly with the planned and significant reduction in workforce at the site. (1)
NFLA notes that shortcomings in safety performance at Dounreay were also identified in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) annual report (2) and criticism of the environmental management at the plant by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. (3)
A recent BBC Radio 4 ‘File on Four’ documentary has amplified these concerns for NFLA Scotland. (4)
Earlier this year the High Court in London decided that the NDA had acted unlawfully in the way it conducted the tendering process for the contract to decommission the UK’s closed Magnox nuclear reactors – including the Hunterston A and Chapelcross reactor sites. The contract was wrongly awarded to the Cavendish Fluor Partnership. The NDA was forced to pay the losing bidders – a consortium of Energy Solutions and Bechtel – £97m in compensation. Adding other costs such as the £8.5m cost of fighting the case in court, the National Audit Office says it brought the total cost to the taxpayer of this fiasco to £122m.
In the documentary, the BBC revealed that Energy Solutions believed that, just like with the Magnox contract, the contract process for the Dounreay bid was “fudged”. Energy Solutions did not go to Court at the time because it did not want to upset the NDA and ruin its own chances of winning the Magnox contract.
According to the BBC the inquiry into the Magnox fiasco, which is being carried out by the former head of the National Grid, Steve Holliday, has spoken to witnesses about the Dounreay contract tendering process.
As one expert told the BBC, as with other complicated nuclear decommissioning projects, the longer the delay the more opportunity there is for things to go seriously wrong. It is unclear to NFLA Scotland how far the Dounreay management has gone with its redundancy programme, but it would see it as a retrograde move should skilled workers at the site be made redundant now and potentially move away from the area only to find that the current contractors are given notice, after the Magnox inquiry reports, and are replaced by a new system which again prioritises reaching a relatively safe interim end state as quickly as possible.
NFLA Scotland has urged the Cabinet Secretary to raise this issue again with the UK energy minister, urging him to order the NDA to halt any further redundancies at Dounreay.
NFLA Scotland Convener Councillor Feargal Dalton said:
“The NFLA is concerned with the operation of decommissioning contracts by the NDA given the fiasco earlier this year that has led to £122 million of public money having to be transferred by the NDA to Energy Solutions and Bechtel. The BBC have now shown that the weaknesses within the Magnox contract could be identical to the Dounreay contract. I call on planned moves for redundancies at Dounreay to be halted until the Holliday review has reported its findings into the NDA’s operation. It is imperative that the safe decommissioning of the Dounreay site is undertaken in a timely manner by qualified staff to allow Caithness to move on with new projects, like the exciting renewable energy developments taking place across the region.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244 or Pete Roche, NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor (via the NFLA Secretary).
Notes for editors:
(1) Scottish Government Press Release 6th August 2017 https://news.gov.scot/news/environmental-and-workforce-concerns-at-dounreay
(2) NDA Annual Report and Accounts 2016/7 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/630177/NDA_Annual_Report_and_Accounts_2016_to_2017.pdf
(3) Times 6th August 2017 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/dounreay-safety-concerns-raised-by-cunningham-sf7nd5d9b
(4) BBC File on 4, The Nuclear Option – Powering the Future and Cleaning Up the Past, 31st October 2017 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09byv6k