Sunday, 29 November 2020

Nuclear dissembling: From “too cheap to meter” to a clean-up bill for £132 billion (and counting)

The nuclear industry has perpetrated a lot of untruths in six decades of dissembling. But the brazen atomic assertion repeated endlessly in the 1950s that atomic energy would produce power “too cheap to meter” ( originally said by the then chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Stauss, on 16 September 1954, speech to the US National Association of Science Writers when he opined: “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter..”) Parliament’s public spending watchdog body, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reveale don 27 November the huge costs escalations for dealing wwiththeBritish nucleaer waste stockpile, stating: “The cost of the long-term liability to decommission the UK’s civil nuclear sites now stands at £132 billion, though by its nature this estimate is inherently uncertain. Even the cost to take the Magnox sites to the care and maintenance stage of the decommissioning process is highly uncertain, with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) currently estimating that it will cost anything from £6.9 billion to £8.7 billion.” [The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s management of the Magnox contract] The PAC goes onto explain that the timetable for completing this work is “similarly uncertain,” with a current estimate of anything from 12 to 15 years, adding “ past experience tells us that these estimates could increase further.” The MPs believe that the efforts to produce a reliable estimate are “made more difficult by the historical legacy of decommissioning being an afterthought when the nuclear industry was established, and poor records of what hazardous materials are on the sites. In this context, the NDA faces a considerable challenge to produce a reliable cost estimate. However, lack of knowledge about the sites was a significant factor in the failure of the Magnox procurement and original contract, which seriously damaged the NDA’s reputation and has now cost the taxpayer in excess of £140 million, and it continues to be a major barrier to making progress.” They also identify a further barrier to proper long term radioactive waste management as development of sufficient skills and capacity to decommission sites efficiently. The MPS assert that the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) “recognises that its oversight of the NDA has been weak in the past”. They say they “welcome the BEIS and the NDA’s “commitments to improve performance over the next 10 years…and also look forward to reviewing the latest quarterly performance reports which the Department has offered to send us, and note there is an enhanced commercial assurance review to consider all future commercial decisions. We will hold the Department and the NDA to account for their progress in improving the transparency of the nuclear industry and making a success of the new delivery and governance approach. One key conclusion of the report states: The uncertainty affecting the Magnox sites reflects a wider uncertainty about the costs and timetable of decommissioning the whole civil nuclear estate. The NDA estimates that the work will not be completed for another 120 years, the MPs state. The nuclear generation programme has been going less than 60 years to date. The largest proportion of this cost is to clean up and decommission the NDA’s largest site at Sellafield, but the cost to decommission the NDA’s Magnox sites is also substantial, as is the liability associated with decommissioning the next family of nuclear power stations, known as the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs). The PAC reveals that money held in the Nuclear Liabilities Fund - which exists to fund the decommissioning of the AGRs specifically- was increased from £9.5 billion by an additional £5.07 billion this year to reflect the latest estimate of the work required. The NDA is consulting publicly about its strategy for cleaning up its nuclear sites. It may be possible, the PAC observes, to reduce the time it will take to fully decommission the sites of former nuclear power stations from around 85 years to more like 40–45 years. This could significantly reduce the long-term cost of decommissioning the sites as 40% of the overall decommissioning cost can be spent in maintaining, operating and safeguarding the sites while decommissioning activity is taking place. There is also, the MPs suggest “ an opportunity to save taxpayers’ money by accelerating the programme to create a deep storage facility, known as the Geological Disposal Facility, to store highly radioactive waste that is currently held at interim facilities at Sellafield and the sites of former power stations elsewhere in the UK.” I very much doubt a GDF will save money. It will just reposition spending from storage to below ground emplacement. of waste package. The committee recommends: The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Department should make it a priority to progress their plans to find a location for a Geological Disposal Facility in order to reduce interim storage costs at Sellafield and elsewhere, and should confirm when they consider such a Facility might feasibly become available for the storage of waste. This recommendation demonstrates a poor understanding of what the real problems are. Its continued creation! The MPs further point out that a “shortage of the right skills within the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and across the nuclear industry remains a significant barrier to progress.” They recall that “In our 2018 report on the failure of the Magnox contract we were highly critical of the lack of skills—particularly commercial skills—in the NDA. There is also a shortage of technical skills in the pipeline.” (emphasis added) Since then, the NDA has increased its focus on recruiting experienced staff to its own The PAC notes that BEIS tells us that “its relationship with the NDA has changed, with improved oversight of both the NDA’s strategy and progress with its major projects, a dedicated team in the Department [BEIS] looking at the NDA, and a representative of UK Government Investments on the NDA’s own board who reports to the BEIS’s accounting officer” It them adds ominously:“ But we remain concerned about the Department’s capacity to oversee the NDA effectively, and about the number of players from different parts of Government who are involved. Key to learning lessons from the past and establishing appropriate oversight and governance will be implementing the recommendations of the Holliday inquiry into the Magnox contract and the Department’s ‘Tailored Review’ of the role of the NDA. We welcome the Department’s commitment to completing and publishing these reports as a priority, but it is frustrating and concerning that it is taking so long for these important reviews to be published.” (emphasis added) The MPs assert that “ The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is not doing enough to exploit its various assets, either for the benefit of local communities or the UK economy as a whole….. The NDA receives around £800 million a year in income from its commercial activities. Given the expertise and technologies which the NDA and the UK nuclear industry have developed over the years, there are further opportunities, in fields such as Artificial Intelligence and robotics, with export potential which could benefit the UK economy and provide jobs for people in local communities.” It adds: “The NDA also owns and occupies substantial amounts of land. It is encouraging to hear that around 50 acres of land at Harwell has been released and is currently home to a manufacturing centre for coronavirus vaccine. The NDA’s wider estate contains land which could be exploited for commercial and socially beneficial use and could provide much needed employment in nearby communities.” The important thing is that the NDA does not promote the building of further nuclear power plants- such as SMRs- that would add to the already unmanageable national nuclear waste stockpile The MPs also rightly highlight the secrecy that shrouds nuclear decisions made by the NDA, stating: “Public accountability is hindered by a lack of transparency about the scale and nature of the challenge of decommissioning and the performance of the NDA.” Nuclear decommissioning will cost current and future generations of taxpayers’ substantial sums of money and has a significant impact on the lives of those who live near one of the NDA’s sites. However, little information about, for example, the timescales for completing decommissioning work and returning land to communities is readily available to the public. Greater transparency about progress with decommissioning would improve public accountability, help to stimulate improved performance, and increase the visibility to local communities of the activities and opportunities available on NDA sites.” Indeed. ________________________________________ Published: 27 November 2020 Site information ________________________________________ Contents Summary Introduction Conclusions and recommendations 1 Understanding and managing the burden of nuclear decommissioning on the taxpayer Uncertainty over the cost and timetable for decommissioning Maximising the potential of assets 2 Meeting the future challenges of nuclear decommissioning Shortages of the right skills Departmental oversight and the new delivery model Transparency about the scale and nature of the challenge Formal minutes Witnesses Published written evidence List of Reports from the Committee during the current Parliament

1 comment:

  1. The solution to the nuclear waste is the Stable Salt Reactor (SSR) designed by Moltex Energy. It's a type of Advanced Modular Reactor that converts nuclear waste into a much safer form and produces vast amounts of electricity in doing so. Unlike the Small Modular Reactors (SMR) supported by the UK Government the SSR is inherently safe, it simply cannot have a serious accident The UK Government should be supporting the SSR not Rolls Royce's SMR. I've made an FOI to BEIS and NIRAB to ask why the SSR has not been supported but I have had no information back from the FOI despite making changes to the FOI as requested by BEIS. Look at the Moltex website for information on the SSR. I am a retired reactor physicist with no interest, financial or otherwise, in Moltex. My interest is in supporting plentiful, safe and cheap energy.