Britain turns to Bechtel as it plans giant nuclear waste site

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The Independent Online

American engineering firms Bechtel, Washington Group and Jacobs Group have been approached by the British government over the construction of a huge £12bn repository to store the UK's nuclear waste.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is overseeing the project, will put the design, construction and operation of the repository out to tender early next year.

The NDA said earlier this month that it wanted to start looking for a contractor as soon as possible so that one would be in place by the end of 2008. Bidding will take up to two years.

Amec, which specialises in nuclear decommissioning and project services work, is interested in a project management role at the repository.

The US firms have already given the Government informal advice on how to proceed. Bechtel, which built a huge nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is interested in the construction work. The NDA has not yet begun talks with interested companies.

The building and operating contracts could be worth at least £12bn. Analysts estimate it would cost £2bn to build a combination repository, which would store low-level and intermediate-level waste as well as spent fuel. Because the waste will be stored there potentially for thousands of years, operating the facility - and safely storing newly delivered nuclear waste - could cost another £10bn.

Around 470,000 cubic metres of existing nuclear waste and future waste from reactors yet to be decommissioned needs to be safely stored. The waste is currently stored temporarily at 30 sites around the country.

The Government will issue the long-awaited findings of its energy review in March and is expected to sanction the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors. But it is anxious to find a solution to the problem of how and where to store existing nuclear waste before more reactors are built.