The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes the National Audit Office remain sharply critical of the relatively slow speed in decommissioning high hazard sites at the Sellafield nuclear site in West Cumbria. While the costs continue to rise, there also remain ‘intolerable’ risks on the site, which still remain to be resolved. (1) NFLA is encouraged that some improvements have been made, but it remains highly concerned with the slow rate in dealing with the highest hazard facilities on the site.
The National Audit Office (NAO) and the NFLA has been keeping a close eye on progress at Sellafield, which has been subject to much instability in recent years. This includes a damning BBC ‘Panorama’ documentary which raised a number of serious deficiencies on the site.
The main issues raised in the NAO’s report include:
- The NDA has improved its overall performance in reducing risk and hazards at Sellafield.
- However, “it still has a long way to go in decommissioning and cleaning up the site, facing continued delays and an expected overspend of up to £913 million”.
- Significant progress has been made to deal with legacy ponds and silos, with the pile fuel storage pond emptied of 70% of its radioactive content.
- The NAO has also found it difficult to evaluate overall performance at Sellafield due to a number of factors including the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) not being able to demonstrate how its current work leads to progress against its long-term mission.
- The report notes that, while the NDA claim to have made £470 million in efficiency savings, they, or Sellafield Ltd, are not aware of their makeup and “admit that a proportion do not represent genuine efficiency savings”.
- The NDA spent £586 million on three projects at Sellafield only to cancel them for ‘more cost effective strategies’.
- The NAO believe the NDA’s strategic decisions around prioritizing activity at Sellafield could be profoundly changed and improved by a better, more evidence-based assessment of these constraints.
- The UK Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) governance of the NDA is complex and not working as well as it should to support improvements at Sellafield.
- The recent failure (in the NFLA’s view shambles) of the NDA’s contract to decommission its Magnox sites has exacerbated this lack of clarity and remains an important imperative for reviewing the NDA’s performance and the Government’s support of it.
- NAO report notes that 61% of the NDA’s spend in 2017-18 was on Sellafield, and that it makes up £91 billion of £121 billion as the current undiscounted cost of the NDA’s clean-up mission to 2120.
The NFLA also remain alarmed that highly dangerous plutonium canisters are “decaying faster than anticipated” at the Sellafield nuclear plant and continue to present an “intolerable risk” if they started to leak, the NAO report warned. The NAO note that Government scientists have agreed to spend an extra £1billion to make them safe by wrapping them in packaging. The problems around the canisters have occurred because some of them are judged to be “unsuitable” for storage in a new facility which only opened in 2012. Sellafield Ltd are now facing challenging timetables to build a new £1.5billion facility, as well as making contingency plans for the next two years while the new depot is constructed. As one of the most hazardous parts of the Sellafield site this is of real concern and the NFLA urge the NDA to build it in time. (2)
If writing a school report on the NDA’s performance from the detail of the NAO report, the NFLA would suggest it would be at best around a C+. NFLA welcome reported improvements in NDA performance but it is quite clear the NDA is still not getting fully to grips with the huge problems on the Sellafield site, the most hazardous nuclear site in Europe.
NFLA remains concerned that there were further cost over-runs of a little under a billion pounds and that it also is clear the NDA’s overall strategic mission in dealing with the Sellafield site remains confused. The recent debacle of the failed Magnox decommissioning contract emphasise that much still needs to be done to improve the organisation.
The NFLA also calls on the Government to improve its performance and support to the NDA. It should be much more involved in its operation and driving improvements at the NDA in a more pro-active way. It remains absolutely clear to the NFLA that the UK is still not fully in control of its nuclear decommissioning and safe radioactive management strategy, and that is a very serious state of affairs some 70 years into the UK nuclear age.
NFLA looks forward to raising further its concerns at the upcoming NDA Stakeholder Summit in Berkeley next month at which members will welcome progress where it has happened, but will remain sharply critical of key failings in core parts of the business, as the NAO report clearly notes. A number of councillors from NFLA lead Northern Ireland member Newry, Mourne and Down Council will also be visiting the Sellafield site shortly to challenge senior staff and see for themselves progress on the site.
NFLA Vice-Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“NFLA is pleased there is finally a little progress at the Sellafield site and with the NDA. It is about time. But the National Audit Office remains damning in outlining huge cost over-runs of £913 million and key weaknesses in the NDA’s strategic mission. It is also clear the Government has been inadequate in its role of supporting the NDA in achieving its mission. It is absolutely essential that the high hazard facilities at Sellafield are made safe, particularly to the plutonium canisters and the facility around them. While this report says there has been some progress it is clearly nowhere near enough at present. The NDA and the Government must clarify the core priorities at the Sellafield site and resolve them as quickly as is possible and practical.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) National Audit Office report on progress at the Sellafield site, 20th June 2018
(2) Daily Telegraph, 19th June 2018