Thursday, 10 July 2008

"Taxpayer could end up paying nuclear clean-up bill"

MPs Not Completely Asleep Shock !

"A damning report from the House of Commons committee of public accounts criticises ministers for providing no certainty over the future cost of decommissioning Britain's existing nuclear sites - estimated at £73bn [and] that the clean-up costs of a planned new generation of atomic power stations do not end up in the lap of the taxpayer. (Grauniad)

"We cannot be confident ... that even this figure will not be significantly upped when the estimates are next revised," said Edward Leigh, chairman of the CPA."

It’s worse than that, matey: as regularly predicted here, we’ll end up paying France’s bill, too.


Old BE said...

How about the taxpayer foots the nuclear bill, and the nuclear industry pays the public sector pensions?

Bill Quango MP said...

Recently read They Meant Well: Government Project Disasters by D. R. Myddelton.

It looks at Concorde, The Dome, The R101, Nuclear Power, The groundnut scheme and the channel tunnel.

One point made was many of the failures were down to politicians: installing inadequate or over-complex organisations, appointing incompetent managers, or insisting on excessive secrecy.


The absence of market pressures in the UK’s civil nuclear power programme meant that nobody knew or cared how much it was costing. The result was total losses far far exceeding those of all the other five projects together.

rwendland said...

The Magnox power stations, the ones that cost most of the NDA's £73 billion to decommisssion, were never really viewed as economic at the outset. They were a creature of the nuclear industry & civil servants - I think the customer (CEGB) was only given one month to comment on the 1955 White Paper.

Also the Suez crisis kicked off a huge expansion of the Magnox programme, as that govt worried about oil supplies! You could view a big chunk of the £73 billion NDA cost as slow-burn payback for our Suez adventure in 1956!

Wonder what our payback for the Iraq adventure ultimately will be?

If you are into a critical view of UK nuclear history, take a gander at Walt Patterson's now downloadable 1985 book Going Critical.

rwendland said...

... just spotted a good official govt quote in Walt Patterson's book.

In 1962 Sir Dennis Proctor, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Power, said to a select committee:

"that until nuclear and conventional power become competitive, the industry will be bearing the additional cost of generation because of 'national policy as laid down by the Government', although he claimed that the industry accept the additional cost now in order to gain the long-term advantage. ... In his view the argument as to whether the taxpayer or the electricity consumer should bear the extra cost of the nuclear power programme should proceed from the basis that in ten or fifteen years' time nuclear power 11 stations will be needed, and that just as present customers have benefited from technological advances in the past, so they should bear the cost of present advances.

The witness did, however, agree that it was hard for the industry to be saddled with the extra cost [£360 million extra capital cost for seven nuclear stations between 1962 and 1968 compared to conventional stations] of a programme which is now generally admitted to be too big and which it is doubtful they would have supported if they had been 'perfectly free agents'."

And from such pushing of British industry (by a Conservative Govt I might add) was our current £73+ billion decommisssioning bill born!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much cheaper decommissioning would be if our regulations governing radioactivity weren't so irrational.

Unknown said...

Why don't they design them to be decommissioned from the start?. £78 billion to knock much energy would that buy us from the French instead? oh yes I forgot it's all about the money multiplier effect. Or spend some money on energy reduction measures so we don't need as much energy in the first place..

We are creating toxic material that we have no idea what to do with and can't even go near - that to me is a bad idea.

Nick Drew said...

loads of interesting points, thanks

dearieme - care to elaborate ?

rwendland said...

Alastair: The modern commercial PWR is much cheaper to decommission than the gas cooled designs the UK nuclear industry decided to run with. In fact any PWR is easier to decommission as it has a compact high power density core, that can I think usually be moved away as a single unit.

The UK Magnox has a very large low power density nuclear core containing between 1100 and 3750 tonnes of radioactive contaminated graphite. This has to be dismantled in-situ, safely packaged, and carted off. Then there is the 5000+ tonnes of somewhat contaminated concrete and steel to dispose of. As you can imagine this is tricky and very expensive. And as Magnox fuel corrodes easily and can burn, it cannot be direct disposed and must be reprocessed in a messy chemical process - so we have large associated plants in Sellafield to decommission.

If you wanted to build something difficult and expensive to decommission, you could view Magnox as the winning entry. The UK was unique in building so many gas cooled reactors - most countries only used them to make bomb Plutonium, not power. To a lesser extent British Energy's AGRs have similar problems.

I've not come across anything that suggests UK policymakers were aware of the scale of decommissioning problems when they were making investment decisions. Presumably some in the UK nuclear industry had thought about it a bit in the 1950/60s, but it seems this info did not float very far upward. A complete shambles - the traditional UK nuclear industry should not be trusted, they seem to me to be effectively running a job creation scheme.

rwendland said...

A little off-topic, but the Times, Telegraph and Guardian all report Downing St aides saying UK is going for "eight medium-sized power stations, each generating about 1.2 gigawatts of electricity".

The EPR generates 1.6+ gigawatts - is this a sign that the EDF plan to build several EPRs in the UK is collapsing?

If the govt is hoping for AP1000s (~1.2 GWe), have they groked there is a long waiting list on the limited build capacity for the steel pressure vessel?

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