Labour under fire over £58m set-up cost of NDA

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The Independent Online

The Government is facing criticism over the new authority that will oversee the clean-up of Britain's radioactive sites, after it emerged that it has cost £58.5m to set up.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will begin work on 1 April and will issue dozens of contracts to decontaminate 20 nuclear sites including Sellafield.

In response to a Freedom of Information request made by The Independent on Sunday, the Department of Trade and Industry has revealed that between 2002 and 2004 it spent £24.2m on the NDA. It also said that in 2004-05 it would spend a further £34.3m of taxpayers' money on the authority.

Norman Baker, the environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "When it comes to money, the nuclear industry is like a colander. I am sure this is why Britain is ruining the environment by importing so much nuclear waste for reprocessing."

Much of the £58.5m was spent on consultants' fees. Bechtel, the US project management group, has positioned itself as a key adviser to NDA. The DTI has previously refused to say how much it has paid Bechtel. But it has now admitted that the company has received £9m.

The disclosure also reveals just how ingrained Bechtel has become in the NDA. The DTI says it helped to: design the structure of the authority; train over 1,000 people at BNFL and the UK Atomic Energy Authority; and design the future NDA clean-up contracts.

Bechtel is barred from bidding for any NDA contracts until next year because of a potential conflict of interest.

Instead, British Nuclear Group, which will be spun out of BNFL, will be handed some of the first deals.

Commenting on the NDA's costs, a DTI spokesman said: "Setting up the NDA from scratch is a complex project and marks a step change in the UK's approach to the clean-up of our nuclear sites. It will save public money over time through the application of cost-effective and efficient ways of clean-up."

A question mark, however, still hangs over the NDA because the European Commission has yet to approve its £48bn budget, which could be classed as illegal state aid.