The head of the consortium running the decontamination of Sellafield has apologised for a string of management failures that has seen the cost of cleaning up the Cumbria site soar beyond £70bn.
Facing a powerful committee of hostile MPs, Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) chairman Tom Zarges, said the he was "humbled and we are truly sorry for any of those events that have cost the British taxpayer money".
The costly errors have included nearly £240,000 of inadequately explained expenses claims, the most notorious being a £714 taxi fare for a cat and trips to the US Masters golf tournament.
Public Accounts Committee member Meg Hiller described the expenses as a "financial scandal".
Mr Zarges made a separate apology for the "error we may have made and did make" on up to 606 expenses claims, but argued that this has now been resolved to the “satisfaction of all concerned”.
NMP, which is led by US group URS and also includes France's Areva and London Stock Exchange listed Amec, has been accused of a range if management errors in a 292-page report by accountant KPMG. This showed that 11 of the biggest projects on site, including the construction of a storage facility for radioactive sludge, are £2bn overbudget.
Despite a litany of issues from reporting inaccuracies to having insufficient engineering capabilities at Western Europe’s most complicated nuclear site, NMP was recently awarded an extension to its contract. Unions had wanted NMP fired after running the site through what they view as five error-strewn years, while many national and local politicians were shocked at what they consider to be reward for underperformance.
John Clarke, chief executive at the Nuclear Decommissioning authority that handed NMP the contract, also conceded that his agency’s decision to redact great swathes of the KPMG report may have “gone beyond” what was necessary on legal grounds.
He insisted that this had not been the intention, but committee deputy chairman Richard Bacon said that the effect was the “hiding” of criticisms on NMP, such as whether the aims of the contract were being met.
After the hearing, GMB national secretary for energy Gary Smith said he was concerned that the NDA has only granted the contract extension to NMP following government pressure. He called for “all the paperwork” between minsters and the NDA over the KPMG report to be released to the public.
He said: “The real question is did ministers effectively over-rule the NDA and press for the contract to be extended?”