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NDA estimate of UK’s early nuclear site cleanup costs rises £20 billion in four years

23 February 2015

On February 11, the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) published its latest estimate of the ‘Nuclear Provision’, the best estimate of how much it will cost to clean up the UK’s earliest nuclear sites over a 100 year plus programme. This is driven primarily by the costs of decommissioning, dismantling and demolishing the buildings, as well as managing and disposing of all waste.

Sellafield - Image: Shutterstock
Sellafield - Image: Shutterstock

The Nuclear Provision covers the costs of decommissioning 17 nuclear sites across the UK, some dating back to the very earliest days of the industry in the 1940s. The sites include:
•  facilities previously used to produce nuclear materials for weapons
•  research sites used during the development of the nuclear industry
•  nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities and fuel fabrication plants
•  the UK’s first generation of nuclear power stations, the Magnox fleet

Also included are the costs of running plants that are still operational, in particular the reprocessing facilities at Sellafield.

Decommissioning many of these facilities will continue well into the 22nd century. Over this timescale, technology improvements, changes in Government policy, economic circumstances and environmental issues will all affect plans and forecasts. With this in mind, the NDA says the Nuclear Provision figure should be regarded as an informed estimate, within a wide range of assumptions, which is updated annually.

The current estimate is that clean-up costs across the UK will be in excess of £115 billion (bn) spread over the next 120 years or so. In reality, taking account of numerous uncertainties, the range is likely to be somewhere between £90 bn and £220 bn, depending on a wide range of assumptions.

However, the NDA is required to provide a single figure in its accounts and, in line with other public bodies that forecast future spending over many decades, also to apply a discount using a rate specified by HM Treasury. The ‘discounted’ figure indicates the amount of money needed today that, if set aside and invested, should cover future decommissioning costs: this is currently around £70 bn. The NDA's Nuclear Provision for 2011 was just under £50 bn, so estimated costs have increased by £20 bn in four years.

Of the total, 74% has been earmarked for the Sellafield site, 12.3% for the 10 Magnox nuclear power stations, 8.6% for waste (Geological Disposal Facility 8% and Low Level Waste Repository 0.6%), 3.6% for research (Dounreay 2.5% and Harwell/Winfrith 1.1%) and 1.4% for the fuel fabrication and enrichment facilities at Capenhurst and Springfields.

The costs of decommissioning the 17 sites covered by the Nuclear Provision are all publicly funded.

The second generation of nuclear power stations, the Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) fleet, are operated by EDF Energy and funds are set aside towards their future decommissioning programme via the Nuclear Liabilities Fund. The third generation of nuclear power stations will be built by the private sector, with decommissioning plans and cost forecasts in place at the outset.

The latest generation of reactors will be vastly more efficient than the early designs, according to the NDA, and are expected to be cheaper to dismantle.



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