Sellafield 'needs extra £276 million of taxpayer’s money to complete UK's biggest nuclear construction project'

  • @SteveAConnor

The company in charge of running Britain’s nuclear reprocessing operation at Sellafield in Cumbria said today that it needs an extra £276 million of taxpayer’s money to complete the single biggest nuclear construction project in the UK.

Sellafield Ltd said that the final costs of building the Evaporator D complex to handle Britain’s liquid nuclear waste will need to be increased from £397m to between £599m and £673m. This is more than six times the original estimate for the project.

Sellafield Ltd also said that the schedule for completing the enormous project, which involved the construction of 11 house-sized modules on Merseyside and shipping them to Cumbria, has slipped to February 2016, six years later than originally planned.

The extra costs of completing the project will wipe out the company’s efficiency savings of £182m and come on top of the £1.34 billion wasted on the Sellafield Mox Plant, the troubled nuclear fuel plant that had to be closed last year in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Evaporator D was originally planned to cost about £100m and was supposed to be completed by 2010 to replace the three existing evaporators at Sellafield, which reduce the amount of liquid nuclear waste by allowing the evaporation of water.

The delayed completion date of 2016 for Evaporator D threatens to disrupt the operating timetable of Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp), which is scheduled for closure in 2018 and lies at the heart of the site’s massive reprocessing operation.

Many tens of millions of pounds extra will have to be spent on Thorp if Sellafield was forced to keep it operating longer than planned, according to some industry observers. However, Sellafield has insisted that its reprocessing operation is still on schedule despite the delays in finishing Evaporator D.

Following a major review of the Evaporator D project, Sellafield Ltd said that it needs the extra cash to complete the construction and will seek formal approval from the Government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is the legal owner of the site.

“Following the completion of our review into the project we now have a firm understanding of the issues the project has faced and a clear understanding of how they can be rectified,” Sellafield Ltd said in a statement released last night.

“We have learned from this experience and we are actively addressing lessons for Sellafield Ltd and the supply chain,”  it added.

The NDA said that the request for more funds to complete Evaporator D will now go through formal governance processes, including Government approval, before it can endorse the new budget and the revised delivery schedule.

“The NDA continues to closely monitor performance at Sellafield and hold our contractors to account as necessary,” the NDA said in a statement.

“Any increase in costs attributable to Evaporator D will have to be managed within the existing Comprehensive Spending Review settlement, and as such there will be no additional calls on the public purse. The work programmes detailed in the Sellafield Plan remain fully funded,” it added.

The NDA said that a number of “strategic initiatives” and efficiency savings, such as the clean-up of the Dounreay nuclear plant in Scotland, have enabled it to save more than £2.6bn of taxpayer’s money over recent years.