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MP Austin Mitchell takes a nuclear management consortium to task

austin mitchellOral evidence presented to the Committee of Public Accounts, Draft Report (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing risk at Sellafield), Twenty-fourth Report of Session 2012–13, 26.11.12.


In 2008, the management of Sellafield Ltd was contracted to Nuclear Management Partners: US company URS, British company AMEC, and AREVA of France.

After a tour of the site, Austin Mitchell said:

Q40 – (Sellafield) is something that seems to me like a cross between science fiction and a nuclear slum—perhaps the biggest nuclear slum in Europe.

There is a huge problem in clearing that up and what worries me is that you have a very difficult job in controlling the costs. The three members of the consortium, the troika, whatever you call them, are all capitalist organisations. They have to make a bob or two. How do we know and how does the taxpayer know that they are not overcharging us for their services?

I noticed in paragraph 2.7 it says, “The Authority’s assurance was extensive”, but “it did not have clear evidence on how Sellafield Limited estimated costs and schedules. The Authority also had no benchmarks to judge proposed levels of performance.” “It made minimal comparisons with nuclear projects elsewhere in the UK or internationally to check the validity of the estimates.”

It also says, in paragraph 2.8, “The exact nature of some of the materials has not been fully characterised” and a further point in that paragraph, “there is not yet sufficient supporting data to provide reliable estimates”. And then finally in that paragraph, “The Authority could not determine whether critical paths for completing programmes and projects were correctly identified”.

Now, how are we to stop the taxpayer being ripped off in that situation where the Authority is not in a position to fully control the costs of the consortium?

Q44  . . . Paragraph 1.7 says, “The Authority’s ultimate objective is to complete the cleanup of the site and release it for alternative uses by 2120”, which is a very long time away. I am worried about the gap between 2034 when you finish the cleanup operation and the Government’s estimate that it will have found a geological storage facility by 2040. What happens in that gap to all the material that is at Sellafield? . . .

Q45  – Can you tell us is the active search for a geological storage facility going on? Are you likely to find one or is it just a pious hope?

I remember the efforts of Nirex in the 1980s, when they came to Grimsby and tried to persuade us that a nuclear dump would be for the good of our health and people tended to disbelieve this for some reason. It is going to be a very difficult one to persuade anywhere to take a geological dumping site, is it not? Have you found one?

Q118 – One final question for the Decommissioning Authority: you do not report externally on the performance of your major projects.

Why not?

Why is it all internally reported?

Surely all this needs to be reported externally so that we and the public can have some idea of what is going on, how successful you are, where the weaknesses are and what the problems are.

Why do you not report externally more?


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