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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

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NDA denies Evaporator D 'cover up'

AN alleged cover up over the cost of Britain’s biggest nuclear project - Evaporator D at Sellafield - has been denied by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The NDA has totally refuted an accusation made this week in a national newspaper - The Independent - that it had tried to conceal information on a project seen as a lifeline for the site’s longer term operations.

The massive vessel is needed to deal with high-level radioactive waste produced by spent fuel reprocessing.

At the start of the year, The Whitehaven News revealed that Evap D was believed to be around £100 million over its near £400 million budget, speculation which the NDA has never denied.

But the NDA has hit back fiercely over The Independent’s allegation on Wednesday of a cost cover up previous to the current financial problems (and delays) highlighted in The Whitehaven News in January.

Following The Whitehaven News' revelation, Ian Hudson, then the NDA’s head of programme at Sellafield, referred to “an emerging picture of timescales and costs escalating more than the sanctioned value.”

The Independent claimed that minutes of a 2008 NDA Board meeting showed that “nuclear executives had originally estimated Evap D’s cost to be only about £100 million only to rise to about £400 million.

In a statement, the NDA says it “ totally refutes the accusation in The Independent’s article that we have tried to conceal information on Sellafield’s Evaporator D project

“We have never sought to deny that early estimates for the Evaporator D project provided by Sellafield’s previous operator existed, merely that the NDA did not regard them as either robust or credible final costs. As regards the minutes of NDA Board meetings, it states quite clearly on our website that these are published for a period of 12 months after which they are removed, but that all Board minutes remain available on request.

"When the NDA took over ownership of the Sellafield site in 2005 the need for additional evaporative capacity to complete these programmes of work had been identified. Preliminary work had begun on establishing a project for a new Evaporator (D) and initial costings of £90m had been suggested by the operators of the site as a basis for moving the project forward. However these costs were prior to a fully worked up design being available.

"Evaporator D is a very substantial and technically complex project in its own right, but made even more challenging by the unique environment of delivering projects within the Sellafield site.

"More mature assessments of the emerging design and scope were undertaken and the NDA Board were updated with reassessments of the potential costs. Indeed the scope of Evaporator D was increased to remove the need for further Evaporators, a decision that will provide significant future cost savings.

"It was only when a final position on scope and design was established that the NDA was in a firm position in December 2009 to sanction expenditure at £397m, and it is against this figure that the performance of the current contractors will be judged.

"In our view, it is inappropriate to compare the fully sanctioned figure based on a final engineered design for this complex project against initial scoping costs assessed some five years earlier.

"Board minutes have been regularly published which have evidenced this development and the NDA has continued to respond openly to enquiries. The NDA takes its responsibilities to be open and transparent very seriously and has since 2005 constantly strived to improve the amount and quality of information available.

"More information is now readily available in the public domain regarding the policies, priorities and work programmes relevant to the sites in our control than ever before.

"A prime example was the publication in July 2011 of the Sellafield Performance Plan which sets out in detail the forward programme of work at our priority site.

As regards current performance against the £397m sanctioned figure concerns exist around cost and timescale pressures and a full review of the project is underway that will ultimately lead to an updated project plan.

" Inevitably, this will result in increases to both costs and schedule. Until that review is complete and a new plan produced by our contractors it would not be appropriate to speculate on the detail of these impacts.”

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