Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing risk at Sellafield - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Projects and plans

1.  Since the Committee of Public Accounts last examined the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (the Authority) in 2008, the Authority has secured a new lifetime plan for Sellafield, with a total cost of some £67.5 billion spread over the duration of the plan to 2120. The Authority told us that this plan was more coherent and complete than previous plans.[2] It accepted nonetheless that there were still significant gaps and uncertainties and that there was more work to do on benchmarking cost and schedule estimates, on assessing risks and on ensuring the plan included an appropriate level of contingency.[3] The Authority also admitted that until it is retrieving waste from the legacy ponds and silos, it will not be able to say with confidence that the total cost of decommissioning has peaked and will plateau or start to reduce.[4]

2.  The Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (the Department) have accepted that expenditure on the highest hazards should not be constrained, but recognised that this does not obviate the need for good plans and management of costs.[5] The Authority told us it was trialling a benchmarking tool which could help to challenge cost and schedule estimates in the plans but had not yet applied it at Sellafield.[6]

3.  The plan for the long term storage of hazardous waste is a crucial determinant of the cost and timescales for risk reduction and decommissioning at Sellafield. The Department is proposing to design and build an underground storage facility— commonly known as 'the geological disposal facility'— which will contain much of the waste from Sellafield as well as other nuclear sites. The Authority is responsible for designing the geological disposal facility and its plan was that this facility would not be ready until 2040. Once a community has volunteered to accept this facility in their area, the plan allowed 15 years to complete the detailed geological assessments necessary before the site could be confirmed as suitable. After that, a further 12 years would then be required to dig out the site and construct the facility.[7] The Department acknowledged that it may be possible to accelerate this work and told us that it had asked the Authority to review whether the timetable could be brought forward.[8]

4.  Under its new lifetime plan for Sellafield, the Authority does not expect to meet previous deadlines for cleaning up waste—notably those set by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate—which it considered undeliverable.[9] However, the Authority assured us that the rapid and safe remediation of the highest hazard facilities at Sellafield was its foremost priority.[10] It told us that it expected to start retrieving waste from these facilities over the next three or four years, starting to remove materials from the first generation magnox storage pond in 2015, from the pile fuel cladding silo in 2016 and from the magnox swarf storage silo no later than 2019.[11]

5.  The Authority and Sellafield Limited must act with real urgency and improve project management to tackle the risks on the site in good time. Recent performance has not been satisfactory.[12] In 2011-12, only 2 out of the Authority's portfolio of 14 major projects were being delivered on or ahead of the schedule for that year.[13] Basic project management failings have occurred on major projects which could and should have been avoided and were not excusable by the uniqueness of the projects or the circumstances. In particular, the Authority accepted that management of the evaporator D project had not been good enough. Costs on this project have gone up by almost £250 million since 2009 and the project is 18 months behind its original schedule because of Sellafield Limited's failure to spot deficiencies in a key element of the design, or adequately to check the capability of the supply chain.[14]

6.  The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority reviews Sellafield Limited's projects as part of its routine assurance work and told us it had established a Projects and Programmes Review Group modelled on the Major Projects Authority to scrutinise major projects across its estate.[15] The Major Projects Authority currently has a role in scrutinising projects where the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is the senior responsible officer, for example the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's competitions for the contract to manage one of the sites in its estate. The Major Projects Authority does not review any major projects which are managed by Sellafield Limited under its contract with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.[16] The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority told us it was not opposed in principle to the Major Projects Authority providing additional scrutiny of large and critical projects undertaken at Sellafield, such as the silos direct encapsulation plant.[17]

7.  The Authority reports to the Department on progress at Sellafield on a monthly basis and reports publicly on progress against its corporate targets updating its website on a quarterly basis. It recognised, however, that it could do more to promote better public reporting, for example in relation to major projects.[18]

2   Qq 6-7 Back

3   Q 9 Back

4   Q 43 Back

5   Qq 14-17 Back

6   Q 40 Back

7   Qq 44-57 Back

8   Q 45 Back

9   Q 5 Back

10   Q 1 Back

11   Q 43 Back

12   Qq 13, 40 Back

13   C&AG's report, para 3.6 and figure 13 Back

14   Qq 26-31 Back

15   Q 151 Back

16   Q126 Back

17   Qq 157-158 Back

18   Q 118 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 4 February 2013