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£44m cost of nuclear experts

THE cost of bringing in specialists – mostly from the United States – to help improve Sellafield’s performance has soared to £44 million so far.

More than 60 experts in Nuclear Management Partners have been paid the money in salaries and relocation packages over the last four years in a programme called Reachback.

Another £32 million was paid over the same period to 16 Sellafield Ltd executives supplied to them by NMP, the site’s parent body.

Community leaders want to know whether Reachback is value for money.

Nuclear expertise is drawn from NMP’s three constituent companies – URS (America), Areva (France) and Amec (UK). But last week’s National Audit Office report was scathing about massive over-spending on the site and dismissed some major projects work as poor.

On November 26 (2pm at Energus, Lillyhall), nuclear chiefs face a grilling in public from MPs on the government’s Public Accounts Committee into cost and safety issues. These were raised in last week’s damning report.

It shows how NMP’s experts have shared the total £44million packages between November 2008 (when the consortium took over from BNFL) and March this year. But in the financial year (2011-12) the combined Reachback cost of £17 million was £5 million more than forecast. This was paid out to 63 full-time-equivalent “secondees” on Reachback, although that number has been exceeded over the four years of the programme to date.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has reimbursed both NMP’s Reachback and Sellafield Ltd’s executive costs. However, the NAO in its reports, points out: “The Authority identified a lack of evidence to support using Reachback resources... in response Sellafield Ltd has taken steps to improve its government arrangements and in August 2012 produced a Reachback deployment strategy.”

Both Copeland Council leader Elaine Woodburn and Stakeholders watchdog group chairman David Moore have been taken aback by the costs and are asking questions over value for money, but the three Sellafield nuclear unions – GMB, Unite and Prospect – say Reachback has produced results and they are not totally opposed to it. Talks with NMP and the Sellafield site owners, the NDA, over the last 18 months had helped create the new strategy.

Spokesman Steve Nicholson said: “We now have a process where there will be a cost benefit analysis over bringing in new people and what the return of investment will be by the time they go back.

“There are some areas where Reachback has brought massive benefits. Vit plant is one – Reachback sorted out issues there. Also there are examples of other things which have reaped benefits.”

David Moore, who chairs the West Cumbria (nuclear sites) Stakeholders, said: “We are shocked by the size of the Reachback budget. We now need to ask the question: is it providing value for money? We’ll be doing the asking at our next meeting.

“Workers on the site have been very critical, arguing whether the experts from the consortium companies have actually been giving that good value. £44 million is a lot of money to pay out on top of what the NMP gets as a fee for running Sellafield.”

Copeland leader Coun Woodburn said: “It’s an exceptionally large amount of money, not far short of what NMP earns for running Sellafield every year. We reckon it works out at around £400,000 for each Reachback person sent here.

“In some ways I can understand NMP wanting to bring in their own people for specialist work and to pass on their expertise, but it seems to be never-ending.

“I’d like to see the same sort of money invested in re-skilling and re-training our own people for the benefit of Sellafield and Copeland. No only that but also be part of Reachback, being able to take their skills and knowledge elsewhere in the industry.”

Yesterday Sellafield Ltd declined to tell The Whitehaven News the average salary of Reachback experts or why 2011-12 costs were £5 million over budget.

On Reachback, the company said: “It is a tool we use to ensure we get jobs done at Sellafield as quickly and safely as we can by utilising the global skills and experience of our parent companies. For example, as explained at the West Cumbria Site Stakeholders Group meeting last week, a team of Reachback secondees on a short-term deployment was able to identify ways in which the life of the site’s evaporators can be extended, thus enabling our reprocessing plants to process fuel more quickly and more reliably – saving the taxpayer millions of pounds in the process. This is just one example – there are many more.”

The company says it has invested tens of millions of pounds in training and developing its own present and future workforce as well as funding the community apprenticeship scheme.

And the spokesman stressed: “Growing a talented domestic skill base is vital to our mission to clean up Sellafield. It’s the right thing to do, and through our socio-economic funding of Britain’s Energy Coast in West Cumbria, we are developing a construction skills centre which will benefit not only the nuclear industry but all the area’s industry.

“We also sponsor West Lakes Academy School (Egremont) and were part of the team that helped fund the building of the Energus nuclear skills academy.”

Have your say

It is not unusual to pay 'experts' top dollar. However these 'experts' need to have demonstrated their expertise in actual execution during their career. They also need to have skills that nobody else can demonstrate.

I don't believe for one moment that people in West Cumbria haven't got the skills and ability to do this work.

What I find amazing about this story is that all the 'experts' are coming from the USA, a country that only a few years ago was sucking out Sellafield's experts to help their projects.

I worked in the Decommissioning Unit at Sellafield during the 90s, I also worked in Waste Management Services up until leaving in 2001. I have been away from Sellafield and West Cumbria for nearly 12 years, however I cannot believe that it has changed so much.

BNFL was sending numerous staff to BNFL Inc. during the 90s because the nuclear expertise in decommissioning and clean-up was actually based at Sellafield. Alex Colqhoun, Fred Shiel and Steve Challinor the 3 decommissioning 'big-wigs' all at various times talked up the world leading expertise that Sellafield staff had in decommissioning and clean-up.

How has this changed so much since I left?

Obvious answer has to be NDA and NMP. Sellafield was supplying expertise for both decommissioning projects and clean-up projects such as the Hanford TWRS vitrification project.

I worked with Americans during my time at Sellafield and take it from me they were not impressive. They believed they were here to 'teach us' proper project management. However they had no idea about HAZOPs and HAZANs. Safety case management and understanding was laughable, it was all about the dollars. I can honestly say I had zero confidence in any of the Americans I worked with.

How can so much have changed? The tide has certainly turned the other way. I have no evidence to say that's a bad thing, however ex-pat costs seem ridiculously high, as does NMP senior executive salaries.

It seems to me that Sellafield is one big gravy train for those that can get a seat.

Posted by Former Project Manager on 18 November 2012 at 23:31

Well said Ken, absolutely hit the nail on the head, about time the unions started realizing the wage inequality between jobs and there related accountability's, i don't doubt that the site needs people to shuffle paper about write documents and go to meetings but when the these people are getting paid more that the people who have ultimate accountability in there roles for peoples lives, the plant, the equipment, and the surrounding area of west Cumbria which if something went wrong would land them in a court of law then there is something going sadly wrong, NMP have invented to many ( soft jobs as there known ) and given them wages equaling if not beating wages paid to shift team mangers safe systems of work engineering team leaders, the whole sites wage structure is the biggest joke going at the moment, some people have gone home on a friday as pay grade 7s and come back in on a Monday to be told there now pay grade 8s because thats what the reactor divisions pay there staff with the same title the only difference being that the staff in the reactor divisions actually have qualifications to there name and can call themselves engineers and have worked on a running plant ours haven't there glorified document clerks

Posted by truthfull man on 17 November 2012 at 17:01

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