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Friday, 19 September 2014

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Warning over Sellafield hazardous waste plans

Sellafield's plans to replace ageing nuclear waste facilities posing “significant risks” to the environment face considerable uncertainty, a watchdog has warned.

Weblink: National Audit Office: Managing risk reduction at Sellafield

The site's owners do not know how long it will take to build storage and treatment centres for the hazardous material or how much the final bill is likely to be, says the National Audit Office.

Its report highlights the challenge faced by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in taking forward the clean-up of Sellafield, the UK’s largest nuclear site.

For more than 50 years operators failed to plan how to dispose of the radioactive waste and some of the older facilities have “deteriorated so much that their contents pose significant risks to people and the environment”, the report states.

Progress in 12 of the 14 major buildings and equipment projects considered “critical” for reducing risk, which range in cost from £21 million to £1.3 billion, failed to achieve what they were supposed to and had not provided good value for money.

There “is still considerable uncertainty in the schedules and costs” of the projects.

A long-term plan to clean up the site, which is managed by Sellafield Limited, was agreed last year after an earlier one stalled because it was “unrealistic”.

Sellafield stores enough high and intermediate level radioactive waste to fill 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The highest risks are posed by the ponds and silos built during the 1950s and 1960s to store fuel for early reprocessing operations and radioactive waste, says the report.

It adds:

  • 2120 is the target year for the completion of the clean-up
  • £67.5bn is the cost of decommissioning and cleaning up the site
  • Around 240 of Sellafield’s 1,400 buildings are nuclear facilities and so far 55 have been decommissioned
  • £1.6bn was spent on running and cleaning up Sellafield during 2011-12
  • £411m was spent on major projects at Sellafield in 2011-12
  • Estimated completion dates in six of the seven construction projects have been put back by between two and 19 months

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, said: “Projects of this length and ambition are ripe for dithering and delay. I am dismayed to discover the clean-up of Sellafield is no different. The authority’s revised plan sees critical milestones shunted back by up to seven years.

“After only 10 months of operating under the new plan, performance in 12 out of 14 major projects has been dire.

“Hazardous radioactive waste is housed in buildings which pose ’intolerable risks to people and the environment’.

“My concern is that unless the authority holds Sellafield Limited to a clear and rigorously benchmarked plan, timetables will continue to slip and costs spiral. It is totally unacceptable to allow today’s poor management to shift the burden and expense of Sellafield to future generations of taxpayers and their families.”

Sellafield Ltd said it welcomed the report's findings and was "making improvements".

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