Put under the microscope of various Government committees and accountancy firms, the performance of NDA and NMP has been found to be woefully lacking and increasingly bad news for the UK taxpayer – the long-suffering victim of nuclear incompetence. Little wonder that NDA/NMP are finding it difficult to keep their joint and shambolic handling of Sellafields’s clean-up, decommissioning and major project programmes off the front pages, for with some 60% of the NDA’s entire UK budget being lavished on Sellafield where clean-up costs are put at £70Bn and rising, such performance quite rightly needs the closest Government and public scrutiny.
However, whilst this clean-up and decommissioning work continues to catch the media’s eye, it inadvertently obscures the equally important flip-side of the NDA/NMP’s portfolio – the site’s commercial operations of reprocessing which are routinely labelled as Sellafield’s ‘bread & butter’ work. Whilst reprocessing continues to be sanctioned today – largely because of the (declining) revenue it provides to help offset spiralling clean-up costs – the Magnox and THORP plant continue to churn out yet more unwanted plutonium, create unnecessary additional volumes of higher activity nuclear waste and further pollute the environment through their radioactive discharges. For financial year 2013/14, the NDA projected revenue of £633M from these operations against a combined expenditure (operations and capital) of £972M.
Yet, strangely, these commercial operations remain largely unchallenged by Government committee, despite an NDA/NMP track record that rivals their much publicised clean-up performance. The hard-hitting Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and accountants KPMG alone have shown but a passing interest in these activities, the former prompted by written evidence submitted by CORE in advance of the Committee’s first showdown with the NDA last year. In a nutshell, CORE’s evidence to the Committee highlights over a decade of missed operational targets – a record getting worse since the NDA took ownership of Sellafield in 2005 – and the repeated NDA/NMP failure (despite the expertise available to both), to get to grips with the somewhat obvious shortcomings of the ageing and increasingly unreliable facilities.
CORE’s submission to PAC ‘Commercial Operations at Sellafield -Underperformance and Missed Targets’ (which also includes Appendices on the individual facilities) can be accessed at http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Commercial-Operations-at-Sellafield.pdf, and is focused on the dire performance of Magnox and THORP reprocessing and the vitrification of liquid HLW during the period 2000 to 2013 which saw 72% of operational targets being missed, some by considerable margins – the percentage failure rising to 92% since the NDA took ownership in 2005.
CORE’s written evidence points out that serious scrutiny of these operations is conspicuous by its absence from the analysis carried out by a range of other Government and Public bodies. Its recommendation to PAC is that ‘the absence of Government scrutiny or analysis of NDA’s performance in relation to Sellafield’s commercial operations needs to be addressed with urgency. Unless and until a sense of operational reality can be instilled within the NDA, its current failures – particularly in forecasting and setting future performance levels – are likely to be perpetuated. This carries implications not only for the NDA’s overall programme at Sellafield and related Government policies (OSPAR/sea discharge targets and nuclear waste inventory/dumping) but also for ensuring that UK taxpayers are getting full value for the significant monies expended on commercial operations’.
In terms of the almost perennial failure of NDA/NMP to accurately predict plant performance, CORE’s evidence to PAC suggests that ‘a logical assessment of the underlying causes of this year on year failure might conclude that the NDA’s failure bears the hallmark of an organisation incapable of making best use of available expertise, and one poorly equipped to understand the capabilities and fundamentals of the site’s commercial facilities. Alternatively, it may suggest either a covert desire to impress/mislead customers and Government (by inflating the figures) that ‘all’s well’ at Sellafield, or that the expansion of its original clean-up and decommissioning remit to include other Government policies – overseeing the UK’s national underground waste dumping programme and new build involvement – has resulted in the NDA becoming overstretched and its performance thereby adversely affected’.
Submitted to PAC in October 2013, CORE’s evidence warned of worse to come unless action was taken. The latest plant performance figures (not then available for inclusion in the evidence) point to the annual targets for reprocessing and HLW vitrifcation for the current financial year 2013/14 being missed yet again, thus worsening further the NDA/NMP percentage failure rate to meet targets.
In October 2013, the NDA contentiously extended NMP’s contract for a further 5 years – despite the multi-criticisms levelled at the performance of both organisations by Government and others. Quoted in the local Whitehaven News newspaper, NDA Chief Executive Officer John Clarke said of the contract extension ‘both NMP and the NDA now have a much better understanding of the issues and complexities that exist at the site and the challenges that lie ahead’. Time will tell whether this better understanding includes their grasp of commercial operations as well as the much publicised clean-up and decommissioning work that has dominated the headlines.