BY BRIAN PRICECHIEF, REPORTER, Western Daily Press, 30 January 2008

Anti-nuclear energy campaigners and MPs have hit out after a report published today shows the cost of decommissioning Britain 's ageing nuclear power sites, including three in the West, has risen to a staggering £73 billion.

The National Audit Office report said the cost of decommissioning 19 sites, including Hinkley Point A in Somerset , and Oldbury and Berkeley in Gloucestershire, had rocketed by £12 billion in the past four years.

It said the Government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority needed to tackle "significant challenges" if a step change in decommissioning of facilities is to be achieved. Costs are rising rapidly, even for the most imminent work which was expected to have stabilised by now, said the report.

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Western Daily Press

The authority estimated last year that the cost of decommissioning the sites over a 100-year period was £61 billion, with a further £12 billion to run operating sites to the end of their commercial life.

The new £73 billion total is 18 per cent higher than an estimate given in 2003, although this partly reflects a more complete assessment of the range of work needed, the report said. Jim Duffy, spokesman for the Stop Hinkley group, said yesterday he was not surprised to hear the official figure had risen sharply, and he believed the true cost was far higher.

Mr Duffy said: "You can add to that the cost to the taxpayer towards winding down AGR (advanced gas-cooled reactor) power stations like Hinkley B of about £5.2 million - and that's going to go up further in the future.

"Also the cost of disposing of or managing nuclear waste is not included in these figures - that could be up to £20 billion to build shafts underground to store it, so overall, we're actually looking at a figure closer to £100 billion.

"The maths just don't seem to add up. It's an ongoing horizon of escalating costs."

Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, and Northavon MP, Steve Webb said: "The price of dealing with existing nuclear waste has leapt by a staggering £17 billion in the last four years alone. Suggestions that costs may soar even further in the future are very disturbing.

"Since no one seems to know what the final cost for decommissioning will be, how can the Government promise that taxpayers will not end up bailing out the private sector?

"How much is it going to cost our children to clean up the mess left by the new generation of nuclear power stations being planned by this Government?"

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said: "The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took on the tough job of decommissioning the UK 's legacy nuclear facilities. It has put a lot of effort into determining the scale and nature of the task ahead.

"While the scale of the task is now better defined, estimates of costs to the taxpayer have continued to rise."

Edward Leigh MP, Conservative chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has committed significant resources to the enormous task of decommissioning the oldest civil nuclear sites and has come a long way in planning what needs to be done.

"However, the estimated cost of decommissioning and continuing to operate some remaining old sites continues to escalate considerably. It is particularly worrying that cost estimates for work about to begin are still on the rise.

"Decommissioning relies, in part, on income from increasingly unreliable plants, and unforeseen expenses continually pop up. These factors combine and disrupt plans, slowing down the decommissioning process. The resulting start-and-stop' nature of work at some sites adds to the bill for the taxpayer."

Nathan Argent, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "That we can't properly estimate the cost of dealing with our legacy wastes, let alone resolve what to do with them, underscores the fact that plans to build a second generation of new reactors are pure recklessness."


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Page Updated 31-Jan-2008