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.”

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test