Ed Davey fights back amid row over clean-up of Sellafield nuclear site

Controversial consortium was ‘put through its paces’ before getting contract extension

The Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has hit back at critics over the Government’s apparent lack of oversight in the handling of Sellafield, one of the world’s most hazardous nuclear sites.

The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury has written to Mr Davey demanding to know why ministers left the decision of whether to hand a contract extension to the private sector consortium running the clean-up of the site in Cumbria to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which owns Sellafield.

The decontamination is now set to cost more than £70bn, and the consortium, Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), has been heavily criticised for a vast number of delays and budget overruns.

In a recent parliamentary statement, the Government said the energy department was not in charge of awarding the extension last October as it was an “operational matter for the NDA”.

However, Mr Davey told The Independent that his department had “put the NDA as well as NMP through its paces” before the extension was permitted.

“This decision wasn’t completely left to the NDA,” said Mr Davey. “Something as big as this we were obviously consulted on and the NDA itself is still accountable to ministers. We didn’t sit back and say that we didn’t care and it was not a surprise to us when the NDA made their decision.”

Industry observers were shocked that NMP – which comprises the US engineer URS, France’s Areva and London-listed Amec – was granted another five years in charge of detoxifying Sellafield, a decision that was even more startling given that the consortium’s chairman, Tony Zarges, has apologised for his team’s performance since starting in 2009. In his letter to Mr Davey, Lord Avebury said he was “shocked” that the contract extension was not a ministerial decision.

He added: “I would be grateful if you could explain how such a vast contract was left to be approved as an operational decision by the NDA, without reference to ministers, at a time when cuts are still being made everywhere else in an attempt to balance the books.”

Last week, the influential Public Accounts Committee of cross-party MPs called on the NDA to sack NMP if its work does not improve and criticised the “astonishing” costs of the project.

A damning report by KPMG last year showed that nine out of the 11 biggest projects to make Sellafield safe, including the construction of a storage facility to store radioactive sludge, were a combined £2bn over budget.

The situation on site was so dire that there was widespread speculation that responsibility for decontaminating Sellafield, which houses more than 1,000 nuclear facilities on a site of only six square kilometres,  would be taken back in-house by the NDA.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all