Friday, August 12, 2005

8bn pounds added to nuclear shutdown bill

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | 8bn added to nuclear shutdown bill

Mark Oliver and agencies
Thursday August 11, 2005

Decommissioning Britain's 20 ageing nuclear power stations will cost at least £8bn more than originally estimated, according to research published today.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said it thought the cost of decommissioning would be £56bn, compared to the £48bn previously anticipated.

If the decision is taken to reclassify plutonium as waste, rather than an asset, another £10bn could be added to the total cost, according to the NDA, which also said it hoped to speed up the decommissioning process.

The NDA, which has a budget of around £2bn a year, is a quango that was set up by the government in April this year under the Energy Act 2004 to take on the responsibility of the UK's nuclear legacy. Its job is to oversee the clean-up and decommissioning of the country's nuclear power stations as safely and cost-effectively as possible.
News of the escalating cost of decommissioning comes after confidential Whitehall documents were leaked to the media earlier this year in which the case for a new generation of nuclear power stations was touted.

The disclosure of a higher prediction on the cost of decommissioning comes in NDA's first report, a draft strategy on what approach it should take. A final strategy report will be submitted to the government by the end of March next year after a huge public consultation process that was launched today and will last until November 11.

Clean-up costs 'to rise'

The NDA's chairman, Sir Anthony Cleaver, said today that the costs of clean-up and decommissioning, were "already substantial and if other countries' experiences are a guide, projected costs will almost certainly rise". Currently there are 12 nuclear power stations in operation but only one - Sellafield, in Cumbria - will not be decommissioned between now and 2023.

Sir Anthony said the NDA hoped decommissioning could be accelerated, a move which he says would boost safety.

However, it could also impact on jobs at sites such as Dounreay, in Caithness, northern Scotland. One in five workers in the area is employed at the site, the decommissioning of which was due to be completed in 30 years' time. Sir Anthony said the NDA also wanted to speed up the decommissioning of the ageing Magnox nuclear plants, from 125 years to 25 years. Sir Anthony highlighted the four operating Magnox plants: Dungeness, Kent; Olbury, Gloucestershire; Sizewell, Suffolk, and Wylfa, North Wales.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We think based on experience elsewhere in the world it should be possible to accelerate that process significantly and there are major benefits we believe in doing that. First of all you obviously don't have that long period where you have the problem of security and safety in the storage of that material on the site."

Some argue that new nuclear power stations could help cut the level of carbon emissions, which have risen recently and are linked to climate change.

However another view, including that of former environment minister Michael Meacher, is that it is ridiculous to contemplate new stations when the problem of what to do with nuclear waste has yet to be convincingly resolved.

Mr Meacher told Today that the report had underlined the case for bringing an end to the nuclear power industry, rather than building new stations.

"Do we actually, with an industry that is the most non-cost effective, uneconomic in history, want to have a new round of nuclear build?" he said.

"The fact is, nuclear is neither necessary nor desirable to meet our climate change targets. It would entail huge economic, military and environmental risks which should be avoided."

But John Mills, a member of the Nuclear Industry Association, told the programme: "The liabilities that are being dealt with are the legacy of a nuclear programme which had a large variety of reactor types and processes, and which had from time to time to meet various strategic imperatives.

"A future programme of nuclear build can be characterised as a relatively small programme of smaller, simpler plants."

Dr Mills acknowledged, however, that there was as yet no settled view on how to deal with waste.

Sir Anthony said he believed that underground storage of waste was the best option. "I think at the moment our view would be that an underground repository is the best solution, that seems to be the one that combines most of the aspects of safety and security in the most effective way."

Intermediate and high-level nuclear waste needs to be isolated from human contact for up to 200,000 years. Low-level waste, of which there is by far the greatest volume, includes everything from gloves and overalls to large pieces of equipment and concrete. The only place to store this in Britain is in Drigg, Cumbria, which will be full by 2050. There are also fears that this site could be flooded between 500 and 5,000 years after it is closed.

In May this year, a leak the size of an Olympic swimming pool of radioactive nuclear fuel dissolved in concentrated nitric acid forced the closure of Sellafield's Thorp reprocessing plant. The leak was not dangerous to the public but was expensive to repair and an investigation found "significant deficiencies" at the plant.


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