Sellafield sale sparks nuclear waste concerns

Government plans to sell the Sellafield nuclear plant have raised fears about the implications for radioactive waste disposal - further fuelled by the revelation that Britain's nuclear clean-up programme could cost £14bn more than expected.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority announced the sale as part of its newly approved clean-up strategy for Britain’s 20 existing nuclear sites.

The strategy, published on Thursday, also revealed a clean-up bill of £70bn for Britain’s nuclear sites – a £14bn increase on previous estimates – raising protests from environmentalists.

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said: “UK taxpayers will have to pay the spiralling bill of dealing with Britain’s dangerous nuclear legacy, which could now be as high as £70 billion. Nuclear waste stays highly radioactive for many thousands of years, and we still don’t know how to safeguard it for the future.”

The Conservatives criticised moving Sellafield into private ownership on the grounds that it would compromise the safe disposal of waste nuclear material. Shadow Trade & Industry Secretary Alan Duncan said:

“To dump fifty years of dubious waste onto the private sector with none of the guarantees that only Government can offer needs serious public debate before they should think of going ahead.”

The Sellafield sale also raised concerns in Ireland, with demands for reassurance that responsibility for nuclear safety should stay with the UK Government despite the plant moving into private hands. Irish environment minister Dick Roche said:

“The Irish Government has consistently held the UK Government accountable and responsible for the continuing operation of the Sellafield Nuclear Complex. … Our concerns regarding marine discharges, operational safety and the storage of very large quantities of Highly Active Waste on the Sellafield site remain.”

The NDA argued that, on the contrary, a privately owned Sellafield with a five-year contract would be made safer by the effects of competition.

NDA chairman Anthony Cleaver said: “The Government’s decision to approve a sale of British Nuclear Group brings the benefits of competition, by way of a sale, to our biggest site – Sellafield, earlier than in our original schedule.

“By offering a five year contract to the new owner our aim is to provide the incentive to drive strong performance improvements while also providing a period of stability for the site.”

By Goska Romanowicz

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