Nuclear clean-up body slammed for being too 'soft' on contractors

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The Independent Online

The decommissioning body which becomes responsible for £48bn of Britain's nuclear liabilities on 1 April has been attacked by MPs for being "soft" towards contractors in not threatening financial penalties for failure to deliver.

The decommissioning body which becomes responsible for £48bn of Britain's nuclear liabilities on 1 April has been attacked by MPs for being "soft" towards contractors in not threatening financial penalties for failure to deliver.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has drawn up contracts that take effect at the start of next month for the lucrative work of dismantling the UK's nuclear facilities. The main contractors for the first phase of the process are the UK Atomic Energy Authority and British Nuclear Group, the clean-up arm of the state-owned BNFL.

But MPs are worried that the two contractors will not offer value for money for the taxpayer, who is footing the bill.

During a grilling by MPs last week, Dr Ian Roxburgh, the chief executive of the NDA, admitted there were no penalties in place if the contractors did not carry out the work as promised.

If performance was appalling or there were cost overruns, the contractor would lose its profit on the work and its reputation would suffer, he said. But its costs would still be met, and there would be no other penalty.

Lindsay Hoyle, who is on the Trade and Industry Select Committee, told The Independent on Sunday: "Everything is an incentive to deliver but there is no penalty. That is the biggest worry about the contracts. The NDA's approach is a little bit soft. If contractors get it wrong, they must know there will be a problem."

Another committee member, Sir Robert Smith, said: "Without penalties built into the contracts, there is a concern whether the NDA would be able to ensure robust delivery."

There are also concerns over the relationship between the NDA and Nirex, the independent nuclear waste regulator. Nirex will advise the authority on how to package the decommissioned material, but has yet to sign a contract with it.

The dispute echoes criticism last week of the public-private partnership on the London Underground. Infrastructure consortia Tubelines and Metronet had little incentive to improve efficiency as the penalties were too weak, said a report by MPs.

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