The decommissioning of Sellafield nuclear power plant is running almost £1bn over budget, a government watchdog has revealed.
In total, the project to dismantle the Cumbria plant is facing an expected overspend of £913M following a series of delays, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
While all major projects carried out between 2017 to 2018 came in on budget, delays on other works mean the entire project is likely to come in 29% over budget.
As a result the role, function and governance of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) must be reviewed, and its understanding and communication of progress at Sellafield has got to improve, the report said.
National Audit Office head Amyas Morse said: “The NDA, for its part, needs to do a better job of explaining what progress it has made and what it will achieve over the next two to four years so parliament can hold it to account.
”It might also help if there was less focus on the extraordinarily round terms of £120bn to be spent over 120 years, and more focus on what can be delivered in a more meaningful timescale, say within 40 years, in terms of cleaning up this extremely dangerous nuclear legacy. I would hope this could be a great deal if they push ahead.”
The NDA cancelled three projects after spending £586M on them, and legacy ponds and silos programmes have delivered less work than planned in three out of the past six years.
However, the report concludes that significant progress has been made on programmes to reduce risk and hazards in legacy ponds and silos.
In response NDA chief executive David Peattie said: “The recommendations of this report will inform and support our ongoing work to improve and strengthen the role of the NDA and continue our upwards trajectory of progress at Sellafield and across our other 16 nuclear sites.”
The report also questioned NDA claims that Sellafield Limited has achieved £470M of efficiency savings. Neither the NDA or Sellafield know the makeup of the savings, the report said, and admitted that a proportion do not represent genuine savings.
Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier MP added: “Nuclear decommissioning is a multi-billion pound programme and a small delay or poor planning can lead to billions of pounds being wasted at a time when other parts of the public sector are severely squeezed.
“Just because nuclear decommissioning is complex does not mean that the NDA should be let off the hook in seeking value for money for taxpayers. The NAO highlight some welcome progress but also areas where the NDA needs to up its game.
“The new management arrangements were meant to improve matters but if this and the fallout from the recent Magnox failure are slowing down decision-making and sapping staff morale, the NDA needs to sharpen up its act.”
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