Nuclear chief’s despair over Sellafield firm NMP revealed in letters written by UK nuclear decommissioning boss

‘This is a massive indictment of NMP’s failure to deliver’ says environmental consultant after reading letters written to clean-up consortium

Damning criticism of the consortium overseeing the expensive clean-up of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has been revealed in a series of hostile letters written by John Clarke, head of the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Mr Clarke accused Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) of undermining confidence and damaging the entire project’s reputation, as well as criticising Tom Zarges, the consortium chairman, of setting “unduly conservative” targets. In one letter, written in November 2012, Mr Clarke attached slides that outlined the NDA’s frustrations with NMP’s decontamination work at the Cumbrian facility, including concerns about the “quality of leadership” and the “pace of change”, which it said “feels too slow”.

The content of the letters has added to the confusion over why NMP was recently asked to continue overseeing the clean-up of one of the world’s most hazardous nuclear sites until 2019. The correspondence, which was obtained under a Freedom of Information request, covers a 21-month period to November 2013. During this time NMP and the NDA were locked in discussions over a five-year extension to a contract that was originally awarded in 2008.

Politicians and the deal’s numerous critics were shocked when the NDA awarded NMP the extension in October, despite a disastrous tenure during which Sellafield’s clean-up bill soared to over £70bn. The letters warn that a “re-baselining” of budgets will cause cost estimates to further spiral in April this year: “However presented, the extent of change was going to be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to sell.”

The harsh tenor of the letters – one of which demanded “improved performance in a number of key areas, including schedule delivery” – adds weight to suggestions that Mr Clarke did not want NMP to continue at Sellafield. The NDA looked at bringing the decontamination back under the management of the public sector.

A critical 292-page report by the accountancy firm KPMG last year showed that nine of the 11 biggest projects on the site, including the construction of a storage facility for radioactive sludge, were a combined £2bn overbudget.

Seven were also behind schedule, while KPMG argued that the structure of NMP’s contract was “inappropriate” and was designed in a way that sought to “maximise shareholder returns”. NMP is a consortium of California-based URS, France’s Areva and British engineer Amec.

Dr David Lowry, an independent environmental policy and research consultant and a member of Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates, obtained the letters. He said: “This is a massive indictment of NMP’s failure to deliver – and then to give them an extension is almost inexplicable.

“If Clarke carries on as the chief executive he is going to have to work with NMP for another five years when he clearly doesn’t have any confidence in them. When it comes to Sellafield, it doesn’t matter how you manage it, costs are hyped up year after year.”

Mr Zarges told Parliament’s public spending watchdog last month that he was “truly sorry for any of those events that have cost the British taxpayer money”. Mr Clarke also gave evidence at that hearing, admitting that he was “disappointed with elements of [NMP’s] performance”.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said last night that the “more evidence that emerges of incompetence at Sellafield and the more incredulous that I become that the contract was extended”.

She added: “One wonders who was responsible for that decision. I would like to see real openness and transparency because they’ve all [NMP, the NDA and Sellafield itself] been hiding behind each other.”

The committee will publish the findings of its inquiry in the next few weeks. It is expected to be yet another damaging report into the running of the site over the past five years.

In April, Mr Clarke rebuked Mr Zarges over work to decontaminate waste storage that was hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.

The following month, he accused NMP of failing to improve vital  aspects of their Sellafield plans. He said: “The proposed delivery dates received from NMP … do not appear to represent accelerated performance on the part of Sellafield Limited.”

He added: “The NDA is concerned that these dates are unduly conservative, reflecting a continuation of current performance levels which we have agreed are not acceptable.”

An spokesman for the NDA said: “Mr Clarke reaffirms the views he expressed at the Public Accounts Committee hearing.”

 

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam