The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes the latest report on performance at the Sellafield nuclear site from the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC). While NFLA acknowledge that some improvements have been made, it shares the concern of the PAC that large cost overruns and ineffective management structures are still stifling the work of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and its oversight by the UK Government.
On the positive side, the report notes that the NDA and Sellafield Limited have met significant milestones with reducing risk at the high hazard facilities at Sellafield, the NDA’s largest and most hazardous site. The NDA and Sellafield Limited have also made progress with reducing delays and expected cost overruns with 14 major projects at Sellafield, which have a combined lifetime cost estimate of £6 billion. NFLA welcome these improvements, which appear to show the benefits of keeping the Sellafield contract ‘in house’ within the NDA, rather than with an external contractor.
However, the PAC report goes on to say:
“While we recognise that there has been progress since this Committee last reported, there is still a long way to go and the NDA cannot afford to be complacent. 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, we remain sceptical about its long-term strategy to decommission Sellafield. Also, 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.”
Such a statement is of real concern to the NFLA. The NDA has been in existence since 2004 and was specifically established to resolve the deep-seated issues at Sellafield and some other sites. A cost overrun of close to a billion pounds is clear evidence that it is still not achieving one of its core targets – getting control of expanding budgets that come to it from the public purse. That the NDA has still not put in place effective measures to understand why so many of its projects get into trouble, or could be undertaken at a quicker pace, suggests to the NFLA that parts of the business model remains not completely fit for purpose, some 14 years after the NDA came into being.
The long-term strategy to decommission Sellafield is an immense and highly expensive endeavour. With the Thorp reprocessing plant now closing – and in the NFLA’s view its establishment was one of the expensive ‘white elephants’ that are endemic of the wider problems with the site – now is the time for more root and branch improvement. The PAC report does not engender great confidence the NDA will deliver this either on time or budget. Whilst NFLA are aware of the great complexity of the Sellafield site it urges the NDA to come up with a more effective strategy that can engender confidence of real and long-term progress.
The biggest area of concern from the PAC report comes from the future of the plutonium stockpile at Sellafield, the largest concentration of the material anywhere in the world. NFLA has consistently called for this material to be immobilised and stored for the long-term. For years the Government and the NDA has prevaricated as it hoped a reprocessing and financially beneficial option could be realised. It is time for the Government and the NDA to decide to safely store this material for the long-term. It is time as well to stop seeing Sellafield as a place to create new income streams and get down to the serious endeavour of dealing with the most difficult issues on this complex site.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
“The Public Accounts Committee’s latest report on Sellafield makes again for slightly depressing reading. It remains clear that both the NDA are not getting a firm grip on the essential decommissioning work that is required at Sellafield, and the Government is also not effective in its oversight role of the NDA. Both need to look at the detailed recommendations of the PAC report and implement more effective change. NFLA will continue to engage to encourage such improvement as a matter of urgency.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Public Accounts Committee report, NDA – risk reduction at Sellafield, 30th October 2018