Nuclear clean-up costs escalate further

The bill for the decommissioning and clean-up of Britain's aging nuclear plants is likely to "significantly" exceed current estimates, a Government committee has said.

Predicted costs have shot through the roof in recent years, going from £48bn in 2002, to £56bn in 2004 and to £70.2bn in 2006, as new financial and environmental issues continued to crop up. The House of Commons trade and industry committee has now described the costs as “unclear,” but likely to “rise significantly” above the £70bn mark.

“The overall quantified costs of £70.2 billion seem to us likely to rise significantly, both as further investigative work is done at the most difficult sites within Sellafield and Dounreay, and because the nuclear industry appears to be reluctant to continue with reprocessing of spent fuel,” said the committee headed by Tory MP Peter Luff.

Nuclear fuel reprocessing is a contentious issue that has seen criticism from environmentalists as a source of further contamination.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) had hoped for reprocessing to help offset some of the clean-up costs, but this now seems unlikely as the process remains more expensive than buying in new nuclear fuel, the committee said.

The MPs also criticised the Government for creating the NDA in the first place, and cautioned against further restructuring: “Reorganisation is not the best way to retain and attract skills or to give stability and confidence to the wider public, including private sector investors at a time when new build is being discussed.”

On one of the few positive notes in the report, the UK Atomic Energy Agency’s research into nuclear fusion received the committee’s praise. The relatively low costs of the research made it a good investment even if results could not be guaranteed, the MPs concluded.

“Nothing in the restructuring and financing of UKAEA must prevent or inhibit our full participation in what is, potentially, an inherently safe and virtually unlimited source of power, producing very low levels of waste and using freely available fuel sources.

“This power could not only satisfy a large proportion of UK electricity demand but also produce other zero carbon energy sources such as hydrogen,” the MPs said.

Goska Romanowicz

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