Inquiry looms into nuclear fuel plant
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Monday 18 April 2011
Calls for an official inquiry into the financial evidence used to justify the construction a £1.34bn nuclear fuel plant at Sellafield in Cumbria will be treated seriously, the National Audit Office has told The Independent.
Michael Meacher, an environment minister in the previous Labour government, who reluctantly gave the go-ahead for the uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (Mox) plant to be licensed in 2001, said he intends to write to the Audit Office demanding an investigation into the evidence that led to the decision.
A spokesman for the National Audit Office said the Sellafield Mox Plant, which has cost more than the 2012 Olympic Stadium to build and a further £800m in commissioning and operating costs, is not on its programme of inquiries, but that the office would give Mr Meacher's request "serious consideration".
A heavily redacted report by the management consultancy Arthur D Little, prepared at the time when the licence was being considered, claimed that the Sellafield Mox Plant would earn about £150m in foreign revenue over its lifetime by fabricating Mox fuel for mostly Japanese nuclear power companies.
However, nearly 10 years after the plant was licensed to operate, it has produced only 13.8 tonnes of Mox fuel, instead of the stated target of 120 tonnes a year. None of the fuel that has been made is destined for Japan, which was supposed to become the main market for Mox.
Despite the failures, the Mox plant at Sellafield is due to be kept open at least until the end of the decade, at a cost to the British taxpayer of nearly £90m a year. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which runs the Sellafield site, said that the first shipment of Mox fuel to Japan will not take place until the end of the decade.
However, the nuclear crisis in Japan has cast a shadow over even this extended delay in the schedule. Some commentators now doubt whether the plant will ship any Mox at all to Japan, contrary to evidence presented to the government when it was licensed in 2001 – five years after the plant was built during the previous Conservative government.
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