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National Audit Office reveals immense challenges at Sellafield

The Sellafield site in west Cumbria Photo: ITV Border

Some parts of Sellafield are so old, and have deteriorated so much, that their radioactive contents 'pose significant risks to people and their environment.'

That's the findings of a new report by the National Audit Office, which highlights what it calls 'the considerable challenge faced by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority' in the clean up of the nuclear site at Sellafield.

The report acknowledges that the performance of some of the major projects at the west Cumbrian site has been poor, but also says that the owners of the site (the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority), have made progress and improvements since they took over in 2005. It says the NDA inherited a legacy of poor planning and neglect over decades.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

“It is good that the Authority now has a more robust lifetime plan in place but it cannot say with certainty how long it will take to deal with hazardous radioactive waste at Sellafield or how much it will cost.

"Securing future value for money will depend on the Authority’s ability to act as an intelligent client, to benchmark proposed levels of performance and to provide better contractual incentives for making faster progress towards risk and hazard reduction.”

Jill Goldsmith from the National Audit Office compiled the report entitled Managing Risk Reduction at Sellafield, and acknowledged that although a clearer plan was now in place to deal with the challenges, much work remained to be done over the coming decades.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has declined the opportunity to appear on camera, but welcomed the report and released this statement:

"The Report has focussed on the major projects element of the Sellafield programme which represents some £450 million a year out of Sellafield's £1.6 billion annual site expenditure. The Report has recognised the unique nature of the task at Sellafield and the scale of the challenge to deliver major projects at Europe's most complex industrial site, where facilities, equipment and materials date back to the 1940s and 50s.

"The NAO has recognised the progress made by the NDA in developing the strategy and plans to tackle this hazardous legacy, as well as the difficult context of putting in place a contract to deliver a programme of work whilst significant uncertainty about the scope of the task remains.

"The Report acknowledges that NDA continues to take appropriate action to improve Sellafield Limited's performance on major projects and its own capacity to oversee delivery, whilst rightly pointing to some examples where project delivery is not yet at the level of performance we or our contractor are striving for.

'The NDA will continue to work closely with Sellafield Limited and NMP to improve capability and performance on what remains a unique and highly complex national priority. "

– The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

The National Audit Office presented their report to MPs on the Committee of Public accounts, The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP is the chair of the committee, she has raised her concerns about the report:

"My concern is that unless the Authority holds Sellafield Limited to a clear and rigorously benchmarked plan, timetables will continue to slip and costs spiral. It is totally unacceptable to allow today’s poor management to shift the burden and expense of Sellafield to future generations of taxpayers and their families.

"My Committee will want the Authority to assure us that they can establish robust benchmarks to make sure that its plan for Sellafield bears down on inefficiency and waste inthe supply chain. Importantly, the Authority needs to provide Parliament with regular reportsto enable proper public scrutiny."

– Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP

In response the NDA said:

"The chair of the committee has acknowledged the scale and complexity of the task at Sellafield and we look forward to welcoming her and committee members to Sellafield in a few weeks time to see for themselves the progress that is being made in this unique task.

"Whilst we are striving for excellence, the nature of these projects is such that relatively small variances are not uncommon. Performance on the Evaporator D project, however, is acknowledged as being below the required standards of execution. For 12 of the 14 projects referred to, in 2011/12 we have delivered 92% of the planned scope of work, and for less than the budget."

– Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

Ruth Balogh is the Nuclear Issues Campaigner for West Cumbria and North Lakes For Friends of the Earth. She spoke to ITV Border about the report into Sellafield, she said:

Ruth Balogh: Nuclear issues campaigner Credit: ITV Border

"I welcome the breaking of the silence on this matter because there has been many criticisms from the nuclear installations inspectorate over the last 10 or 15 years about all of this this. There's been a silence about it so I think it's absolutely great that it's now out in the open.

"I would also say however that the managing radioactive safe project which is looking for a dee geological disposal facility should have embraced all of this from the very beginning, because this is all about managing radioactive waste safely in its broadest sense.

"What's happened is that it concentrated on deep geological disposal to the exclusion of the interim storage, which would have to happen anyway even if had a dump - which wouldn't be open for some decades.

"This stuff should be stored safely. And to be honest it would create a lot of much needed jobs to really tackle the business properly."

– Ruth Balogh: Nuclear Issues campaigner