Infrastructure experts cast doubt over UK’s biggest energy projects including nuclear clear-up

Pictured: An artist's impression of the UK's future geological nuclear waste storage facility

The Infrastructure and Project Authority (IPA) has also raised concerns about the majority of the Government’s other key energy infrastructure programmes, including the Low-Cost Nuclear Programme funding R&D for small modular reactors.

These warnings are contained within the Authority’s new annual assessment. Published late last week, it assesses whether 244 Government-backed projects with a total whole-life cost exceeding £805bn are progressing well.

Projects are given a ‘green’ rating if delivery if on time, there are no significant quality issues and no other issues that could threaten delivery. Those that are unlikely to be delivered without a major change of direction are ranked as ‘red’. Those with delays, quality issues or other problems which may yet be resolved receive an ‘amber’ rating.

Of the 19 projects covered that are overseen by the Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ), only three get the ‘green’ rating. These are the Local Authority Delivery scheme, which funds councils to upgrade homes and reduce carbon; the SIXEP effluent treatment plant and the storage plant at Sellafield.

But efforts to improve analytical services at Sellafield, the former centre of nuclear reprocessing in the UK, received a ‘red’ ranking. The Authority believes that the successful delivery of the project “appears to be unachievable”. The project concerts assessing and categorizing waste on site.

The Authority has also downgraded the UK Government’s plans for a major geological nuclear waste storage facility to ‘amber’, from ‘green’ in 2021. This facility is being built both to deal with waste from new nuclear sites, but also to consolidate existing waste storage; at present, more than 20 above-ground facilities across the UK are used, each with a maximum design life of 100 years.

Beyond nuclear

Two DESNZ Projects – Sizewell C and the development of carbon capture and storage – are exempt from assessment due to commercial sensitivities. Besides the analytical services at Sellafield, the others are all ranked as ‘amber’.

These include the national rollout of smart meters to homes; the Net-Zero Hydrogen fund; the Homes Upgrade Grant (HUG) for home retrofitting; the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme; the Industrial Decarbonisation and Hydrogen Revenue Support scheme and the Green Homes Grant.

Of the £1bn initially promised under the Green Homes Grant, less than £200m was provided in the initial format. The IPA report states that £500m has now been administered to local authorities in England in total.

edie has reached out to DESNZ for a response to the IPA report.

Green projects beyond DESNZ are included in the report, which also covers key schemes relating to land management, water infrastructure and transport infrastructure.

Under the Department for Transport (DfT), Crossrail has been upgraded from ‘amber’ last year to ‘green’ this time around. A ‘green’ score is also awarded to the Midland Main Line programme for railway electrification.

Nonetheless, the DfT’s overall rail transformation programme receives an ‘amber’ ranking, as does the Transpenine Route upgrade. There are no ‘green’ rankings for any part of the HS2 scheme, with Pashe 1 and Phase 2a both downgraded to ‘red’.

The Rapid Charging Fund, which has a target to allocate £950m to improve electrical capacity on major roads to serve electric vehicle chargers, receives an ‘amber’ rating. The IPA has called the Fund a “successful project” so far on its Twitter.

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