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UK set to end outsourcing of nuclear clean-up via Financial Times

Decommissioning atomic reactors set to be brought in house after contract collapses

Decommissioning Britain’s first generation of atomic reactors is likely to be brought back “in-house” by the UK nuclear clean-up agency after the collapse of a £6.2bn outsourcing contract that exposed “fundamental failures” at the organisation.

Ministers have been considering whether the work, involving 12 Magnox nuclear plants and research sites, should be offered to another private contractor or run directly by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

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Problems included a shortage of experienced staff, poor record-keeping — including the inappropriate shredding of documents — and overly complex criteria that required NDA officials to evaluate bidders on 700 separate criteria.

These weaknesses made it unlikely that ministers would entrust the NDA with another multibillion pound outsourcing competition when the contract with Cavendish comes to an end in 2019 after a 24-month notice period, according to industry figures.

Instead, a Magnox subsidiary would be created along similar lines to Sellafield Ltd, the company responsible for Britain’s largest nuclear site in Cumbria. The NDA took control of Sellafield in 2016 after stripping a US-led private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners, of a £9bn contract.

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Spending on nuclear decommissioning is projected to continue at a similar level over the next decade before gradually declining. But it will continue to weigh on UK finances into the next century because of the long timescales involved in cleaning up radioactive materials.

The latest official NDA estimate put the total cost of UK nuclear decommissioning at £164bn over the next 120 years, an increase of £3.4bn from the prior estimate. That dwarfs the estimated £60bn cost of decommissioning North Sea oil and gasfields.

The NDA’s existing work is spread across 17 sites from Dounreay in the far north of Scotland to Dungeness on the south coast of England. But almost three-quarters of total spending, or £120bn, is expected to be swallowed by Sellafield alone.

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Some 18,500 people are employed by the NDA and its contractors around the UK, accounting for over a fifth of the total 87,500-strong nuclear workforce.

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