True price of UK's nuclear legacy: £160bn

Fresh analysis shows mushrooming cost of clean-up
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The true cost of cleaning up Britain's nuclear legacy is more than twice the £70bn figure given out by the radioactive clean-up body this week.

On Thursday, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the body set up to clean up the UK's nuclear sites, increased its estimate of how much it would need by £14bn to £70bn.

However, this giant figure is only around half of what will be required. It excludes decommissioning British Energy's seven nuclear power stations, the first of which is due to close in 2011, dealing with the Ministry of Defence's nuclear sites and the long-term storage of the waste. Adding those all in would bring the total cost to around £160bn.

The Government has not released up-to-date estimates of the clean up costs. The only reference to the total expense was made by Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment in October 2001. In Parliament she produced an estimate of £85bn, made of £34bn for sites run by BNFL, £7bn for the UK Atomic Energy Authority, £14bn for British Energy and £30bn for the MoD.

The BNFL and UKAEA sites are now part of the NDA and covered in its £70bn estimate. British Energy recently put the cost of its clean-up at £5.6bn - however this is a discounted figure and represents a total cost of around £10bn.

The MoD said that it had no current estimates of how much it would need to sort out its nuclear clean up issues. It is currently consulting on how best to dispose of spent nuclear fuel from its decommissioned nuclear submarines.

However, using NDA calculations based on Mrs Beckett's 2001 estimates, the total bill for the MoD would be closer to £50bn.

Mrs Beckett did not include any estimate for the long-term storage of waste. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management will produce an interim report this month recommending what the Government should do.

Its various options - from surface storage to a deep geological repository - have been priced by the committee at between £7bn and £30bn. Adding all those estimates together comes to a worst-case scenario of £160bn to deal with all the outstanding nuclear issues.

"Most of the UK's nuclear stock was developed in the 1950s and 1960s and little thought was given to the potential waste issues," said Colin Robertson, a nuclear consultant at civil engineers Halco.

The £70bn estimate by the NDA would be higher but for a £7.9bn estimate of income from nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield. The NDA has upped this estimate by £440m in the last six months.

Thorpe is due to reopen in the summer according to its operator, British Nuclear Group. But the Health and Safety Executive is still investigating and is expected to prosecute the company.

The prosecution has not stopped the Government announcing that it wants to privatise BNG with a price tag of around £1bn.