The decommissioning of a nuclear reprocessing site in Cumbria is “significantly” delayed, with expected over-runs of £913 million, according to an official report.
The damning report, which was released on Wednesday, was compiled by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, and shows the scale of the delays facing the site, which was meant to have been safely decommissioned by this year.
While the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Sellafield Ltd were praised for reaching significant milestones in reducing risk at the high hazard facilities at Sellafield, the NDA’s largest and most hazardous site, they were criticised for allowing failures and delays to cost the public so much money.
The government has been told it needs to “seriously get a grip” on its oversight of decommissioning nuclear sites.
Sellafield, which was built in Cumbria 1942, was the first commercial nuclear power station to generate electricity on an industrial scale. After the Second World War, it was used to produce material for nuclear weapons.
The committee found that there has been progress since it last reported on the decommissioning process, but said there is still a long way to go and the NDA cannot afford to be complacent.
The report criticised the NDA for not systematically reviewing why these projects keep running into difficulties, or analysing properly the constraints it says prevent them from making faster progress.
The report said that until this work is completed, the committee remains sceptical about the NDA’s long-term strategy to decommission Sellafield.
The committee also raised concerns that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has still not decided what to do with the plutonium stockpile currently stored at Sellafield.
The report concluded: “Given the scale and unique challenges at Sellafield, the NDA must have a firm grip of the work that takes place on the site.
“We saw that this was not the case with the NDA’s recently failed contract to decommission its Magnox sites, and we are no more convinced of its current ability to monitor and challenge progress at Sellafield. ”
Commenting on the report, deputy chair of the committee, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, said the NDA’s performance was not good enough.
He said: “This report is critical of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s performance. 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.
“This report follows the committee’s earlier report into the NDA’s Magnox contract. The NDA failed in both the procurement and management of this contract and cost the taxpayer £122 million.
“In short, BEIS needs to seriously get a grip on its oversight of nuclear decommissioning in this country.”
Despite the criticism, a spokeswoman for the NDA said it welcomed the report.
She said: “The Report recognises that since 2015, when the NDA announced its intention to make Sellafield Ltd a subsidiary of the NDA, significant milestones in reducing risk at our largest and most hazardous site have been met. It also recognises the improvement that has been made in reducing delays and expected cost overruns.
“Building on this improving trajectory and finding more efficient ways to deliver the challenging work at Sellafield remains the collective priority of the NDA and Sellafield Ltd.
“Cleaning up the UK’s early nuclear sites requires significant public investment and we welcome the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee, which plays a vital role in reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending.”
She added that the NDA plans to respond to the Committee’s recommendations in full.
A BEIS spokeswoman said: “Decommissioning is an important part of the nuclear cycle and, as the PAC recognises, considerable progress has been made at Sellafield.
“This includes strengthening the governance structure and greater use of cutting-edge technologies to ensure the highest possible safety standards are maintained, whilst reducing the costs of decommissioning by 20% by 2030.”