Nuclear clean-up agency proposed

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The Independent Online
AN AGENCY to take over most of the nuclear industry's pounds 22bn clean-up liabilities and smooth the way to privatisation was proposed yesterday by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, writes Peter Rodgers.

In a submission to the Government's nuclear review, the UKAEA Government Division proposed one body to manage decommissioning of a majority of nuclear power stations and waste processing installations.

It would have a staff of about 1,000 but not would undertake the work of decommissioning itself, which would be subcontracted to private sector companies.

Derek Pooley, chief executive of the division, said: 'In the long run a single agency is the best solution for the taxpayer through lower costs.' For the nuclear industry it would encourage private sector involvement and it would also create a strong nuclear decommissioning industry that would compete in world markets.

The UKAEA has divided nuclear plants into those that are liabilities to their owners, because the cost of decommissioning exceeds their future profits, and those that can pay their own decommissiong costs from expected income.

The liabilities include Magnox power stations and fuel plants and the UKAEA's own research installations. The positive assets include Thorp, the new fuel reprocessing plant commission recently by British Nuclear Fuels, Sizewell B, the pressurised water reactor in Suffolk built by Nuclear Electric, and a number of advanced gas-cooled power stations.

The agency plan, backed in principle by Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear, is a response to the City's strong objections to investing in nuclear power, which was kept out of electricity privatisation because it made the generators difficult to sell.

The nuclear industry has now accepted it cannot be privatised unless the Government accepts full financial responsibility for decommissioning the ageing Magnox nuclear power stations and their fuel plants as well as the UKAEA's research facilities.

Privatisation of the UKAEA is restricted to its non-nuclear activities.

The agency proposal is a bid to persuade the Government to raise privatisation higher up the agenda after clear indications that ministers would prefer to see it slip past the next election.

With little chance of government money for new nuclear power stations, privatisation is seen as the only way to continue the construction programme with a second pressurised water power station at Sizewell.