It is reported that more than 300,000 tonnes of “radioactive” mud, some of it the toxic by-product of Britain’s atomic weapons programme, will be dredged at Cardiff Grounds, a sandbank in the Bristol Channel, to make way for England’s newest nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. The government granted a dredging licence to EDF, the company building the new plant, in 2013.
An independent marine pollution researcher, Tim Deere-Jones, said that studies of north Wales tidal surges reveal that the mud and sand deposited from the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing site were heavily contaminated with radioactivity. He has warned that the dumped sediment could re-concentrate into more powerful radioactive material and be washed ashore in storm surges. “We know sediment in mudflats can dry out and blow ashore and that fine sediment with radioactivity attached can transfer to the land in marine aerosols and sea spray.”
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, a government agency took control of Sellafield in 2016 after stripping a US-led private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners, of a £9bn contract. Two large and strategically important nuclear decommissioning contracts in the space of two years have ‘failed’.
The Financial Times reports that in March, Greg Clark, business secretary, cancelled a deal with Cavendish Fluor Partnership, which was responsible for decommissioning 12 Magnox nuclear plants and research sites, at a cost of £122m to British taxpayers. Two reports – one by the National Audit Office and one separately commissioned by government – raised “serious questions” about the NDA’s “ability to manage large, complex procurements. 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.
The former Cavendish Fluor Magnox nuclear plants and research sites are ‘set’ to be brought back “in-house” by the after the collapse of the £6.2bn outsourcing contract that exposed “fundamental failures” at the organisation.
People with knowledge of the process said taking Magnox “in-house” would give NDA “more levers” to control costs, in contrast to an outsourced deal which created incentives for the contractor to expand the scope of work. The FT comments, however, that the ‘botched’ Magnox deal appears to indicate that any economic benefits will be outweighed by the costs and risks associated with cleaning up the radioactive waste.