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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

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Sellafield is back in the global goldfish bowl

BATTERED, bruised and bewildered – that’s how the operators of Sellafield might well be feeling just now. No one could blame them if they did.

The site is back in the global goldfish bowl – mercifully not for any radiation leaks, health scares and major national inquiries as it was a couple of decades ago.

Nowadays, with incidents kept to a minimum, the attention switches to how much it costs to run what the National Audit Office describes as the UK’s largest and most hazardous nuclear site, and particularly the challenges and costs of eliminating “a significant risk to people and the environment posed by deteriorating and highly hazardous facilities”.

This is precisely why the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is spending an absolute fortune of taxpayers’ money to eliminate danger – rightly so for all our sakes.

But in harsh economic times it is right and proper that the costs and risks of necessary hazard reduction are open to public scrutiny.

The Audit Office report makes this possible followed by the government Public Accounts Committee who, in public on Monday week, in a hearing at Energus, Lillyhall, will examine costs and risks.

What causes some shock, besides the vast amount of over-spending on key projects, is the £44 million paid out to experts brought in largely from America by parent body Nuclear Management Partners to improve Sellafield.

It’s called Reachback – how effective it has been over the past four years and whether it offers value for money is open to debate.

Even highly-paid Sellafield workers and their elected representatives have voiced their doubts in the past, but now it seems the unions are being won over by good examples of benefits gained.

Yet when Sellafield’s owners – the NDA – refer to a lack of identified evidence to support using Reachback resources it can only strengthen the case for public scrutiny.

Whether it proves uncomfortable for experts or executives from home or abroad, the public will need some convincing and reassurance that money has not been wasted and will be well spent in future. The answers cannot come soon enough – even if means a few egos or expertise being bruised along the way.

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