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Paul Brown
Paul Brown, former environment
correspondent of The Guardian
researched and wrote this paper
when a Press Fellow at Wolfson
College, Cambridge during 2007/08.
The Fellowship was sponsored
by British Petroleum. The views
expressed in this paper are those of
the author.

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2                                                           VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE

The economics of new nuclear                 already £100 each for every
power stations for the UK do not             taxpayer in the country – and this           * Voo·doo eco·nom·ics,
add up. It is not possible to achieve        is rising.                                   [ \ vü-(_)dü\ \_e-k_-
                                                                                                             ∂ nä-
what the Government says it will do        L Three of the four new reactor                          ∂
                                                                                          miks, e-k_-\ ], noun
– build a new generation of nuclear          designs being put forward for UK             1. Term coined by George
stations in England without public           construction have never been built.          Bush Snr to describe Ronald
subsidy.                                     The only “third generation” nuclear          Reagan’s economic policy
                                             station that is under construction,          because it promised to lower
New build will not be possible               and the favourite to be built in             taxes and increase revenues
without large sums of taxpayers’             Britain, is half-built in Finland. It is     at the same time. 2. Any
money being pledged, and                     two years behind schedule and                use of economics based
extending the unlimited guarantees           million of pounds over budget.               on contradictory ideas and
to underwrite all the debts of the         L The nuclear industry claims                  gobbledegook.
existing and future nuclear industry.        that if planning is streamlined,
                                             nuclear licensing speeded up, and
This paper exposes how badly the             construction is on schedule, a new           dealing with used nuclear fuel from
nuclear industry has performed               nuclear station could be up and              power stations is seizing up.
over its entire 50 years of unfulfilled       running in 10 years. Civil servants        L The MOX plant that is supposed to
promises, and the already escalating         estimate 2021, but previous British          make money by turning plutonium
bill to the taxpayer.                        experience with untried nuclear              and uranium into new fuel has
                                             designs suggests it could be up to           been a technical and financial
The key points are:                          a decade longer.                             disaster. The fuel was supposed
L The taxpayer has already                                                                to be the safe way of returning
  underwritten all the debts and           The main problems at Sellafield are:            tonnes of plutonium recovered
  liabilities of British Energy so the     L The flagship Thorp reprocessing               during reprocessing in the Thorp
  company can never go bankrupt.             plant, built to extract plutonium            plant to its country of origin. This
  This commitment dwarfs the risk to         and unused uranium from used                 plan has failed yet the Government
  the taxpayer of the Northern Rock          nuclear fuel, was closed for three           has no policy for dealing with the
  nationalisation.                           years from 2005. It remains under            ensuing economic and political
L It will take 10 to 20 years before         severe operating restrictions and            crisis.
  the first new nuclear stations              cannot complete its long-overdue           L As a result, the promises of
  can be built and are producing             contracts to deal with spent foreign         successive governments that
  power in Britain. By that time the         fuel.                                        Sellafield would not become the
  liabilities of the existing privatised   L The closure of the elderly                   world’s nuclear dustbin and all
  industry will be so great that the         Magnox reprocessing plant has                foreign nuclear waste would be
  Government will have had to                been postponed, leaving the UK               repatriated cannot be fulfilled.
  renationalise it.                          unable to meet its international           L While Britain piles up its own and
L The crisis may come much                   commitments to cut radioactive               foreign nuclear waste there are
  sooner. British Energy may have            discharges into the Irish Sea.               currently no plans or sites for a
  to start closing some of its 11          L The plants for dealing with the              repository to store or dispose of
  nuclear stations because the only          residue of reprocessing, the                 it. The earliest dates for a deep
  remaining storage space for spent          volatile and dangerous heat-                 underground intermediate waste
  fuel at Sellafield, in Cumbria, is          producing high-level liquid waste,           repository are notionally 2045 and
  running out.                               do not work as designed. The                 high level waste 2075. In reality
L Employing more than 10,000                 evaporators for reducing the                 there are no plans for either.
  people, the massive nuclear                volume and the system for turning
  complex at Sellafield is in crisis.         the liquid into glass blocks have
  Its reprocessing works and a               constantly broken down and
  plutonium fuel plant are all failing       underperformed. As a result the
  at a massive cost – annually               whole Sellafield production line for

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                              3

                                                                                                                              Credit: Don McPhee/Guardian Newspapers.
Successive British governments             unfolding crisis in the existing British
have announced ambitious plans for         nuclear industry.
a new nuclear age. Over 50 years
they have promised to build families       SELLAFIELD IS FAILING
of identical reactors producing cheap      The Sellafield nuclear site in
power. Each plan has faltered.             Cumbria, which houses two publicly-
Delays, U-turns and cost overruns          owned reprocessing works and a
have turned each into a financial           plant for making mixed uranium and
headache for the taxpayer – while          plutonium fuel called MOX, is failing.
electricity consumers’ bills have been     Not one of its facilities is working as
pushed up to pay the extra costs.          it was designed to do. Breakdowns
                                           are costing taxpayers millions of
It is about to happen again.               pounds a week. The bill for keeping
                                           this site running at a continuous loss
The announcement in January 2008           is about £100 a year, or £2 a week,
of another new family of reactors          for every taxpayer in the country,
is repeating the same mistakes.            amounting to £3 billion annually.
Against the evidence of history and
the current knowledge of the nuclear       Sellafield’s intractable problems are
industry the Government is displaying      likely to rebound on the privatised
breathtaking optimism about the            part of the nuclear industry. British      The 400 foot chimney of Windscale’s
potential for the technology.              Energy is wholly reliant on Sellafield      Pile One, damaged by a fire in 1957
                                           to reprocess and store spent fuel          predicted to have caused up to 50
The economics of building new              from the 14 advanced gas-cooled            deaths. The picture is taken from
nuclear power plants, endorsed by          reactors (AGRs) that it operates.          the village graveyard at nearby
the Government, are based on the           Sellafield Limited, which runs the          Seascale.
figures provided by the industry            site, denies space is running out
– which of course has a vested             and British Energy says it does
interest in making them appear             not believe there is any “short term       the risks and costs onto the taxpayer
competitive. Yet the nuclear industry      threat to its operations”; but spent       while private investors pocket the
has never completed any project in         fuel assemblies are being stacked          profit. Yet that is, up to now, how
Britain on time or on budget. The          three deep in the reception ponds          the industry has been run. In fact
Government’s own figures say a              because of a shortage of storage           there has been no reason, if nuclear
new nuclear power programme will           space. If Sellafield can take no more       stations were economic, why they
cut gas imports by only 7 per cent         spent fuel, then British Energy’s AGR      should not have been built already.
and carbon dioxide emissions by 4          stations will gradually have to close.     The conclusion is that the industry
per cent. Yet the programme for four                                                  always needs the Government to
gigantic new stations will get political   The Government last bailed out             underwrite it.
encouragement and public subsidy           the privatised nuclear industry in
on the false claim that Britain needs      2001 to prevent it going bankrupt.         The impact of years of unfounded
them for security of energy supply         This resulted in an open-ended             optimism and blind acceptance of
and to reduce carbon emissions.            commitment to meet all British             the industry’s unproven forecasts
Without government help these              Energy’s liabilities should it become      is already apparent. The Nuclear
stations could not be built.               insolvent a second time. The               Decommissioning Authority (NDA)
                                           Government’s commitment to                 was founded on the notion that it
Ministers seem unaware that at the         Northern Rock Bank savers is small         would be able to fund part of the
same time as endorsing a                   by comparison.                             cleaning up of all the radioactivity
new family of reactors, to be                                                         once plant is shut down at Sellafield
designed and to be delivered               For the new nuclear renaissance the        by income from reprocessing spent
by foreign suppliers, there is an          Government says it will not load all       fuel, thereby creating even more

4                                                           VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
waste to deal with in the future.
This strategy is failing because the        ABOUT THIS REPORT                    The Chronology is a history
plant does not work as planned.             This paper written by Paul           of unfilled dreams and broken
Technical flaws, some of which               Brown, while British Petroleum       promises. It is a timeline of
cannot be fixed because they are             sponsored Press Fellow at            false optimism, grandiose and
inside highly radioactive areas, have       Wolfson College, Cambridge in        unrealistic plans, cost overruns
made nonsense of estimates of               2007/08, draws on 20 years of        and false assurances. It puts
potential income from plants. This is       reporting the nuclear industry for   in context the naivety of the
causing a funding crisis at the NDA         The Guardian, numerous papers        current Cabinet. The history
and a scaling-back of its clean-up          and documents collected over         of the nuclear industry makes
operations.                                 the period, and a large number       one wonder how Gordon Brown
                                            of recent reports. The industry,     could believe for a moment
Ministers will find themselves               Government and regulators have       that his Government’s decision
trying to deal with these escalating        answered detailed questions.         to give the green light to more
problems at the same time as                                                     stations would usher in a new
asking MPs to rubber-stamp a                The paper is divided into three      atomic age for Britain.
revival of nuclear power. MPs               parts.
might want to consider that all the                                              Part 2 examines the pitfalls
available evidence suggests the             Part 1 describes the crisis facing   ahead for existing and new
Government’s plans will mean higher         operations at Sellafield – the        nuclear power stations. The
electricity bills for their constituents.   industry’s flagship for 50 years.     Government has been ignoring
                                            Technical failures across all its    inconvenient information and
It is already known that the taxpayer       operations are driving costs up      well-researched advice. A
faces a £72 billion bill to clean up        rapidly. Targets for reprocessing    complication is its open-ended
the nuclear industry; yet this figure is     spent fuel, producing new            commitment to underwrite
sold as a problem of “legacy” wastes        fuel, and dealing with wastes        British Energy’s debts. This is
– as if the current Government has          are being missed. Despite            the same company that owns
no responsibility for it. Although          Government assurances                most of the sites on which
some of these costs are historic            otherwise, the site has become       nuclear new build is expected
liabilities from Britain’s 60-year          the world’s nuclear dustbin as       to take place. Yet it seems
nuclear programme, they are                 increasing quantities of foreign     inevitable that if a new building
escalating precisely because current        and British nuclear detritus pile    programme goes ahead British
Government policy is to persist with        up. There is no disposal route       Energy will find itself with
reprocessing – even though it is            for the British waste extracted at   liabilities exceeding its assets
demonstrably unnecessary, given             Sellafield, and as yet, no plans      a second time. Any shortfall
that all spent fuel from the newer          to return to the country of origin   and the costs end up with the
nuclear stations could be stored and        thousands of tonnes of foreign       taxpayer. The Government will
disposed of at far less cost.               waste. This is from nations          have to take on ownership of
                                            that have sent their spent fuel      any bankrupt nuclear stations;
                                            to the UK to be reprocessed.         it can then choose to run them
                                            Repeated Government pledges          as a nationalised industry.
                                            that the plutonium, uranium and      Alternatively it could take on all
                                            waste from reprocessing this         the new liabilities and give back
                                            spent fuel would be repatriated      the stations to private ownership
                                            have still to be honoured.           as it did only three years ago.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                   5

Sellafield is the most closely             the nuclear production line running;    liquid radioactive waste. This waste
guarded industrial complex in             the over optimistic predictions made    is very volatile and difficult to deal
Europe. For more than 50 years            to justify investment in them; and      with. The recycled plutonium and
this remote site in Cumbria, where        a comparison with their current         uranium can be turned into new
10,000 people are employed, has           financial problems.                      fuel (called mixed oxide, or MOX).
been at the frontier of nuclear                                                   In practice only a tiny quantity has
technology; it is also a lynchpin of      No electricity is now produced          been used in this way because it is
the industry in the UK. If it is not      at Sellafield using nuclear power        far more expensive to produce than
working properly the whole industry       – all the reactors are being            normal uranium fuel. Many reactors
feels the effects.                        decommissioned. Instead the site’s      are not designed to use MOX and it
                                          business is to receive spent fuel       is potentially more hazardous.
Here the nuclear dream has turned         from British and foreign reactors.
into an economic and security             Some is kept in storage ponds.          The Sellafield nuclear recycling centre
nightmare for the British taxpayer. The   These are swimming pool-sized           has suffered many near disastrous
extent of the problems at Sellafield       tanks into which spent fuel is          episodes in its history; but accidents
has not been fully explained to the       lowered as it is delivered from power   and technical and management
public; nor have the potential knock-     stations. To be safe, and avoid         failures in the past 10 years have
on effects for the whole nuclear          overheating, the fuel needs to be       brought this production line of linked
industry. But research shows the          constantly monitored and kept cool.     nuclear factories to a crisis.
situation is rapidly getting worse.       Some is held there indefinitely but
                                          most is destined to be reprocessed.     The Government’s safety
HOW SELLAFIELD WORKS                                                              watchdog, the Nuclear Installations
(OR DOESN’T)                              Reprocessing involves feeding           Inspectorate (NII), placed a legal
Sellafield houses several different        thousands of tonnes of spent fuel       requirement on the operators British
plants. Because they are all linked,      into two giant works that chop up       Nuclear Fuels to reduce the volume
leaks, malfunctions and failure to        this highly radioactive material,       of highly active liquors from 1,575
reach targets at one plant affect         dissolve it in nitric acid, and then    cubic metres in 2001 to a buffer
the rest. Below is a summary of the       separate and recover the plutonium      stock of 200 cubic metres by 2015.
main operations required to keep          and uranium, leaving a residue of       (Buffer levels are the amounts of

                                                                                      Lewis Strauss, chairman
                                                                                      of the US Atomic Energy
                                                                                      Commission, said atomic
                                                                                      power would provide electricity
                                                                                      “too cheap to meter”. The UK
                                                                                      tried to make this promise
                                                                                      come true by combining
                                                                                      plutonium and electricity
                                                                                      production in one power station
                                                                                      design. Plutonium was given
                                                                                      much greater value than gold
                                                                                      and so the “plutonium credit”
                                                                                      for power stations meant
                                                                                      that on paper the electricity
                                                                                      produced was virtually free.

6                                                         VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
Credit: Guardian Newspapers
liquid waste in the system which
would allow safe, efficient operation
of the plant.) Technical failures in the
evaporators required to do this have
led to frequent and costly shutdowns
– all funded by the taxpayer. The
major clean-up priority at Sellafield
is turning highly dangerous liquid
radioactive wastes into safer glass
blocks – so called vitrification.

These five important operations at
Sellafield – the two reprocessing
plants, the MOX plant, the
evaporators and the vitrification plant
– are all in trouble. They are part of
the same nuclear production line to
which spent nuclear fuel from the
UK and countries across the world
is delivered. At the other end of this
reprocessing conveyor belt neatly
packaged new fuel and waste are
supposed to be delivered back to
customers. It has never worked liked
that. Instead the production line has
repeatedly broken down, and there
are too few customers for the MOX
fuel. As a result Sellafield is the         1962, Cumbria, England – Calder Hall, Britain’s first nuclear power station,
home of the world’s biggest stockpile      which opened in 1956.

  1956:                                     1957:                                    1957:
  The Queen opened the first                 Government promises a nuclear            After a disastrous fire at Windscale,
  two 65 megawatt dual purpose              building programme to achieve            the world’s worst nuclear accident
  reactors at Calder Hall at                5,000 to 6,000 megawatts                 until Chernobyl in 1986, Prime
  Windscale (later Sellafield). “The         capacity by 1965. That would             Minister Harold Macmillan told
  first station anywhere in the world        mean 20 nuclear stations with            the Cabinet he was suppressing
  to produce electricity from atomic        four reactors each the size of           the report that detailed the full
  energy on a full industrial scale,”       ones at Calder Hall.                     extent of the disaster, defects
  according to Rab Butler, for the                                                   in organisation and technical
  Government at the time. The                                                        shortcomings. The facts were not
  public was not told the reason                                                     made public for 30 years.
  for the station being built was to
  produce plutonium for the UK’s
  nuclear weapons. Because of the
  plutonium credit the electricity
  was regarded as a cheap by-

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                         7
Credit: Christopher Thomond/Guardian Newspapers
of plutonium and uranium for which
there is currently no use. In addition
there is an ever increasing quantity of
nuclear waste, which, despite billions
of pounds of investment in hardware,
the industry is struggling to deal with.

There are two ends of the line for
Sellafield production. Neither is
working properly.

The first is the high-level nuclear
waste stream, intended to produce
packaged waste for deep geological
storage and eventually disposal. This
begins with evaporating the highly
dangerous liquid nuclear waste to
reduce its volume and eventually           Flasks in the Vitrified Product Store at Sellafield. Light circles denote full
turning it into glass blocks.              flasks, dark are empty.

The second is the end-product for
recovered plutonium and uranium            is virtually brand new but is already    the nuclear industry claimed they
– the fuel called MOX. The Sellafield       proving a millstone around the           were being built for. From there the
MOX Plant (SMP) is supposed to             taxpayer’s neck. Officially its losses    story turns back up the production
earn foreign currency by turning           are “commercial in confidence”.           line to describe the crippling effects
mixed oxides of plutonium and                                                       for other plants and processes
uranium derived from reprocessing          Below is a description of how these      – which are in turn handicapped
spent fuel into new fuel. The SMP          two plants are failing to achieve what   because of their own design flaws

    1960:                                       1964:                                  1964:
    Government White Paper scales               Government White Paper, The            Magnox reprocessing plant
    back nuclear building plans to 3,000        Second Nuclear Programme,              opened at Windscale for dual
    megawatts, acknowledging that               says 5,000 megawatts of new            purpose of producing plutonium
    coal generation was 25 per cent             plant will be built between            for nuclear weapons and for fast-
    cheaper. In fact it was admitted to         1970 and1976. This turned              breeder reactor fuel.
    the House of Commons in 1963 that           out to be the era of the
    nuclear generation was more than            advanced gas-cooled reactor
    twice as expensive as coal. Among           (AGR). Other designs were              1965:
    other things very large research and        rejected after much dithering.         Proposed building programme
    development costs were written off          Minister for Power Fred Lee            for AGRs increased to 8,000
    when calculating the cost of nuclear        told the House of Commons              megawatts.
    energy. Planning restrictions for           of the AGR design: “We
    nuclear plant were relaxed and a            have won the jackpot this
    total of 11 Magnox stations were            time – we have the greatest
    built, the last at Wylfa, Anglesey,         breakthrough of all times.”
    completed in 1968. It was three
    years late.

8                                                          VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
and technical failures. At every stage     the danger of a collapse of the           is made into glass blocks have
it is the taxpayer who picks up the        tanks or the consequences of an           failed earlier than expected. Inside
bills for cleaning up. This is currently   interruption in the 24-hour-a-day         the sealed nuclear units, or cells, in
about £100 a year, or £2 a week, for       supply of electricity and water that      which these processes take place
each and every UK taxpayer, and            are required to keep the tanks cool.      the cranes and other remote handling
this figure is expected to continue         Liquid storage of such dangerous          equipment frequently broke down
rising for the foreseeable future,         wastes is not a permanent solution.       – probably because of the intense
for a clean-up that will last at least                                               radiation. Modifications improved the
another 100 years.                         In 1990 a plant was built to convert      plant to an output of 332 containers
                                           1,355 cubic metres of this liquid         a year by 1995 but it was still not
Vitrification plant                         waste into 8,000 glass blocks             enough to clear the backlog.
For more than 40 years high-level          – although even in this much safer
liquid waste has been stored at            state the blocks would have to be         A third production line was ordered
Sellafield with constant stirring           closely monitored for a further 50        in the mid-1990s when it was clear
and cooling to stop radioactive            years before they could be placed         that the technology was not working
elements combining and causing an          in a long-term repository. The plant,     as designed. The volume of waste
explosive reaction. The NII became         costing £240 million, was designed        was supposed to be reduced by
concerned more than 10 years               to clear the backlog of waste and         350 cubic metres over 14 years to
ago that these storage practices           allow reprocessing to continue by         get it down to safe and manageable
might become unsafe because of             producing 600 glass blocks a year         levels. Instead, in 2001 the volume
the state of the tanks. This concern       from two production lines, with           increased because the company
was repeated in the NII’s 2007             each glass block being placed in a        continued reprocessing; meanwhile
report. The tanks are considered the       container, known as a can. The plant      failures in the vitrification plant
single installation most vulnerable        did not function correctly. In the first   meant production of glass blocks
to terrorist attacks and together          two years to 1993 output was limited      could not keep pace. The situation
contain far more dangerous                 to 114 containers a year. The Nuclear     became so bad in September 2001
radioactivity than the Chernobyl           Installations Inspectorate (NII) said a   that both reprocessing plants were
reactor. The Irish Government has          large number of “melters” in which the    closed to avoid legal sanctions by
often expressed concern about              liquid waste, sand and other materials    the NII. At this time there were

  1966:                                      1977:                                     1979:
  First AGR construction begins.             Windscale Inquiry inspector               Conservative Energy Secretary,
  Dungeness B in Kent becomes                Justice Parker recommends                 David Howell, announces 10
  an industrial legend for cost              Thermal Oxide Reprocessing                new Pressurised Water Reactors
  overruns and delays and the first           Plant (Thorp) at Sellafield                (PWRs) to be built and says that
  reactor is not commissioned for            go-ahead on the (erroneous)               nuclear power “is a cheaper form
  19 years. It was still operating at        assumption that plutonium would           of electricity generation than any
  only 50 per cent capacity in 1991.         be needed for the fast-breeder            known to man”.
                                             reactor programme.

  1977:                                                                                1983:
  Last of seven AGR stations is                                                        Planning inquiry for first PWR at
  ordered for Heysham, Lancashire,                                                     Sizewell in Suffolk starts. It lasts
  to complete the 8,000 megawatt                                                       two years.
  programme. The official CEGB
  history described them as “one
  of the major blunders of British
  industrial policy”.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                           9

                                                            (not working
                                                            to capacity)                       Pu U    94           92

                                                                                            100 tonnes
(from UK and                        STORAGE                                                    AND
   overseas)                         PONDS                                                 30,000 tonnes
                                    (nearly full)                                            URANIUM
                                                                                               (no known

                                                        (output drastically

       1983:                               1986:                               1987:
       Government forced to abandon        The world’s worst nuclear           Sizewell B (to go alongside the
       dumping low- and intermediate-      accident occurs at Chernobyl,       Magnox station Sizewell A)
       level nuclear waste in the          turning public opinion against      approved after the Department
       Atlantic because of combined        nuclear power. In areas of          of Energy claims: “Sizewell B is
       environmental and union             North Wales and Cumbria,            likely to be the least cost option
       pressure.                           where rain fell heavily after the   for new generating plant”.
                                           accident, sheep cannot be sold
                                           to market for 20 years because of
                                           contamination. In 2008 there are    1987:
                                           still 11 farms and 10,000 sheep     Nirex, a company owned by the
                                           under restrictions.                 nuclear industry, formed to find
                                                                               ways of getting rid of nuclear

 10                                                      VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
                                  HIGHLY TOXIC                                 AND TURN
                                AND RADIOACTIVE                               INTO GLASS
                                NUCLEAR WASTE                                   BLOCKS

                                                                               (not working
                                                                                to design)

 (only 6 tonnes
produced in five
years – no hope                                                                         SEND IT BACK
of using existing                                                                        OVERSEAS
    stockpile)                                                                           OR STORE
                                                                                          IT IN UK
                                                                                          (no disposal
                                                                                          route exists)

 1988:                               1988:                                  1988:
 Government abandons plans for       Building of Sizewell B begins. It      After the Government decides
 a fast-breeder reactor programme    is the first of a planned, but soon     to privatise electricity production
 to use plutonium stocks,            abandoned, family of four PWR          a “nuclear tax” is proposed by
 because it is uneconomic “for the   nuclear stations. The second was       financial consultants Solomon
 foreseeable future”.                to be at Hinkley Point in Somerset     Brothers. They say this will be
                                     – where at the planning inquiry        necessary when the electricity
                                     the price for nuclear generation at    industry is privatised to pay
                                     Sizewell is quoted as 2.3 pence        for extra cost of nuclear power
                                     per kilowatt hour, later adjusted to   generation compared with coal.
                                     3.09 pence.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                               11
1,550 cubic metres of high-level          of vitrified waste against a target       on improving production. In the
     liquid waste, far more than there         of 250 as being one of a “wide           subsequent five years to March 2008
     should have been. In 2002                 range of excellent performance           the three lines should have produced
     Laurence Williams, the NII’s chief        achievements”. In fact the “target” of   4,500 cans of vitrified waste; yet
     inspector, said it would take 15 years    250 had been arrived at after higher     the total was just 1,956 according to
     to clear the backlog of high-level        targets had been abandoned twice in      the NII, which continues to express
     liquid waste. The third vitrification      the previous two years because the       concern at the plant’s operation.
     plant, built at a cost of £320 million,   plant was failing even then to reach
     came on line in 2003 to tackle the        dramatically reduced expectations.       Had the plant functioned as
     waste backlog.                            Subsequently performance did             designed then the backlog of
                                               improve slightly. The best output the    waste would have been cleared
     Together, the three lines are             plant has achieved still remains 482     by now; but production has been
     designed to process 900 cans of           cans of vitrified waste in 2005/06,       less than half that required by the
     vitrified blocks a year. The target        just over half the original design       Government’s safety inspectors.
     output for this production line has       target of 900. But even this was         British Nuclear Fuels and its
     been reduced repeatedly by British        a short-lived level of output. The       successor companies have said
     Nuclear Group, the British Nuclear        numbers dropped back again to            again and again that they were
     Fuels subsidiary which runs the           322 in the year to 31 March 2007.        confident they would achieve the
     site on behalf of the NDA, and            The target for 2007/08 was 450           target set by the NII of reducing
     now known as Sellafield Limited.           cans, later reduced to 380; yet on 7     waste to “buffer levels” by 2015. It
     Journalists and campaigners have          February 2008 only 223 cans had          appears on current performance this
     learned over the years that this is       been produced making even this           will only be achieved by stopping or
     standard procedure at Sellafield so        reduced target difficult to reach.        severely curtailing the operations of
     managements can claim targets                                                      the reprocessing works.
     have been met. An example came            Overall in its first 11 years the
     in 2003 when the chief executive          vitrification plant throughput should     Evaporators
     of British Nuclear Fuels, Norman          have been 6,600 cans. In fact the        The vitrification plant is not the
     Askew, referred in his annual report      plant made just 2,400. Hundreds          only technical headache in this
     to the production of 333 containers       of millions of pounds were spent         most difficult of waste streams.

       1989:                                     1989:                                    1990:
       Magnox reactors are withdrawn             Government suspends building of          Nuclear levy is introduced to
       from electricity privatisation.           new (PWR) nuclear plant beyond           cover the difference between the
       The city would not buy the older          Sizewell even though £30 million         cost of generating nuclear energy
       stations because of looming               worth of parts have been ordered         and coal – adding 11 per cent to
       decommissioning costs. The                for Hinkley C.                           electricity bills. Even this does
       taxpayer is left with the bill.                                                    not truly cover the extra cost
                                                                                          because the original capital cost
                                                                                          of most stations had already been
       1989:                                                                              written off. The idea of the levy
       AGRs and Sizewell B are                                                            was to pay for decommissioning
       withdrawn from privatisation                                                       stations.
       because city investors discover
       that the cost of generating
       nuclear power is far greater than
       that of coal.

12                                                             VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
The volume of highly radioactive         The failures of the vitrification           up the cost of electricity. However,
liquid first has to be reduced by the     and evaporator plants have                 it is a way of returning plutonium
use of evaporators. These are like       forced Sellafield to scale back its         relatively safely back to its country of
giant kettles, which concentrate the     reprocessing operations to avoid           origin. For countries like Switzerland,
liquid down so that it can be stored     high-level waste accumulating. Not         Germany and Japan, this is a better
in readiness for turning into glass      to do so voluntarily would trigger         alternative than deliveries of raw
blocks. This is another technology       legal action by the NII. This has          plutonium from Sellafield. The only
on which the wear and tear caused        serious implications for the industry.     current use for plutonium in this raw
by intense radiation seems to have       As well as extra costs and potential       state is for nuclear weapons and its
been underestimated. Whatever the        job losses, the rest of the nuclear        import would be a serious political
problem, the technology has not          production line is affected.               embarrassment for these countries,
performed as planned and the three                                                  all committed to nuclear non-
evaporators have had successive          THE SELLAFIELD MOX PLANT                   proliferation. MOX fuel was seen as
faults and proved unable to deal with    The production of MOX fuel is              the solution to returning plutonium in
the volume of waste coming from          the sole industrial and economic           a safer form.
the two reprocessing works. One of       justification for the continued
the evaporators has been shut since      operation of the reprocessing              Without the MOX plant, reprocessing
2005 although there are hopes of         facilities at Sellafield. The plutonium     to produce more and more surplus
restarting it in 2008. Problems with     and uranium recovered from spent           plutonium and uranium that has
corrosion shut another evaporator in     fuel in powdered form are together         no use is difficult to justify – even
October 2006. These have now been        turned into pellets. These are then        though Sellafield Limited, which
repaired but the third evaporator        made up into new fuel rods for use         operates the plant, still has money-
also had to be shut as a precaution      in existing reactors. This is more         making contracts to do so.
because of similar concerns; it is       costly than traditional uranium fuel
expected to re-open soon. Because        made from raw and newly mined              The MOX plant, which employs 660
of the poor performances of all three    ore. British Energy has refused to         people, has gone disastrously wrong
evaporators a fourth evaporator has      use it for the one British reactor that    partly because of poor management,
been ordered at a cost of £90 million.   can take it, Sizewell B, because it        and partly through legal and
This will not be completed until 2011.   is too expensive and would drive           technical problems. First, the plant’s

  1990:                                    1990:                                   1990:
  Cost of building Sizewell B              Department of Energy admits             Days after a leaked paper reveals that
  increases from £1.69 billion to          that wave power is cheaper              £2 billion could be saved if Sizewell B
  £2.03 billion.                           than nuclear, six years after           was cancelled the House of Commons
                                           researchers at Harwell put              Select Committee on Energy says
                                           the price of wave power at              it is “profoundly concerned” about
                                           9.8 pence per kilowatt hour.            misleading statements on the cost of
                                           Current estimates are 4-5p.             nuclear energy. The Central Electricity
                                           As a result of the 9.8 pence            Generating Board tells the public
                                           calculation all research into           inquiry into the building of Hinkley
                                           wave power was cancelled.               Point C PWR that the electricity would
                                                                                   cost 3.09 pence per kilowatt hour.
                                                                                   During the subsequent privatisation
                                                                                   debate the board puts forward a
                                                                                   figure of 6.25 pence. The Department
                                                                                   of Energy “apparently made no
                                                                                   attempt to obtain realistic costings”.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                            13
value for money was called into
                                                                                                                                                           question. The National Audit Office
                                                                                                                                                           revealed that the original 1993
                                                                                                                                                           estimate of £265 million for the cost
                                                                                                                                                           of the plant had risen to £490 million
                                                                                                                                                           by 2004. The Environment Agency’s
                                                                                                                                                           chief scientist, Dr Jan Pentreath said
                                                                                                                                                           in October 1998 that the agency
©Steve Bell 2000 – All Rights Reserved. First published in The Guardian

                                                                                                                                                           would never have sanctioned the
                                                                                                                                                           plant’s construction had officials
                                                                                                                                                           been asked for a licence in advance.
                                                                                                                                                           He said he would ask for a change in
                                                                                                                                                           the law so that in future the agency
                                                                                                                                                           could prevent “taxpayer’s money
                                                                                                                                                           being spent on speculative ventures”.

                                                                                                                                                           In 2001 the consultant Arthur D Little,
                                                                                                                                                           acting on behalf of the Department
                                                                                                                                                           of Trade and Industry, produced a
                                                                                                                                                           report for the Government that was
                                                                                                                                                           a classic example of the nuclear
                                                                                                                                                           industry’s approach to economics.
                                                                          Steve Bell, political cartoonist and creator of the If… cartoon strip has been   The report wrote off the capital cost
                                                                          lampooning the nuclear industry for 20 years. When the Government claimed        of the plant and said that over a
                                                                          that the Thorp Reprocessing works would be a money-spinner the building          10-year period the expected orders
                                                                          formed a background as a white elephant roamed across the pages of The           for MOX would show a profit of
                                                                          Guardian.                                                                        £216 million over operating costs.
                                                                                                                                                           The figures to justify this report
                                                                                                                                                           were not made public and many

                                                                           1990:                                    1991:                                    1992:
                                                                           The Science and Policy Research          Government announces plans               International Atomic Energy
                                                                           Unit at Sussex University                for a nuclear waste repository           Agency says the building up
                                                                           describes as “misleading and             costing between £2.5 billion and         of vast stocks of plutonium at
                                                                           inaccurate” claims that Thorp            £3.5 billion to be completed by          reprocessing plants “poses
                                                                           would make a profit of £500               2005.                                    a major political and security
                                                                           million in first 10 years. The                                                     problem”.
                                                                           extra cost of reprocessing
                                                                           spent fuel at Thorp rather than          1991:
                                                                           storing it is £1.7 billion to the        Christopher Harding for British
                                                                           taxpayer, the researchers say;           Nuclear Fuels says the first waste
                                                                           and reprocessing produces 160            will be sent back to countries
                                                                           times as much nuclear waste              of origin before the end of the
                                                                           compared with storing spent fuel,        decade. By 2008 none has been
                                                                           and is three to four times more          sent back.

14                                                                                                                                VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
doubted their reliability, because        ships and collecting the eight strings   to a parliamentary question, Energy
profit predictions were based on the       of fuel (weighing only 4 tonnes) cost    Minister Malcolm Wicks admitted
assumptions that there would be firm       the taxpayer £113 million. To date       that the plant had only managed
orders for MOX for the first decade,       the Japanese have not re-ordered         2.6 tonnes of production in 2007
and that the plant would work as          MOX and that country’s plutonium         – and a total of only 5.2 tonnes since
designed. Neither assumption was          remains in store at Sellafield. There     opening in 2001.
correct. Nonetheless, faced with a        is now no policy in place to deal with
Government consultant’s report on         it. It is guarded by the British armed   The Royal Society reported in
its potential profitability and the fact   nuclear police force – again at the      September 2007 that the MOX
it was already built, the Environment     taxpayer’s expense.                      plant, designed to produce 120
Agency granted an operating licence.                                               tonnes of MOX fuel a year, was
The Government then gave the plant        Perhaps the most devastating             now expected to produce only 40
the go-ahead to start up in 2001.         problem is that the MOX plant does       tonnes a year. This was according to
                                          not work – at least not as designed.     evidence presented by the Nuclear
In the event orders from Japan,           In fact commissioning has taken so       Decommissioning Authority (NDA),
expected to be SMP’s biggest              long that the first few orders from       the Government quango in charge of
customer, and on which the profit          Switzerland and Germany for the          Sellafield, to the Royal Society; but
forecast was made, have never             fuel could not be completed on time.     on current form it may never produce
materialised. Quality control             To avoid penalties under breach of       anything like that amount. Sellafield
documents dispatched from                 contract this fuel had to be made in     Limited’s spokeswoman said it was
Sellafield with the first small             a MOX plant in Belgium at British        still early days and the company
consignment of MOX fuel, made in          taxpayers’ expense. In July 2004         hoped to ramp up production.
a demonstration plant, were found         the plant had still not produced any     However, the accumulated financial
to be falsified. In the subsequent         useable fuel and its losses were put     losses on the MOX plant since
scandal, Japan insisted the fuel be       at £600 million. In 2007 the plant       it was built have now become
sent back to England in the armed         had still not got a full operating       “commercially confidential”. This is
ships which had originally delivered      licence, even though this was            a classic blocking tactic for refusing
it but which had already made the         originally expected to be granted in     to reveal information under the
return trip to Britain. Returning the     2003. In February 2008 in answer         Freedom of Information Act.

  1993:                                     1993:                                    1993:
  It is revealed that the 11 per cent       Economists estimate that the             Thorp order book for the first 10
  nuclear levy on electricity bills has     projected income from the                years (in tonnes of spent fuel
  not been put aside for dealing with       nuclear levy between 1990 and            to be reprocessed) is Japan
  decommissioning costs and waste           1998 will represent a £9.1 billion       2,673, UK 2,158, Germany 969,
  but spent on building Sizewell B.         subsidy for the nuclear industry.        Switzerland 422, Spain 145, Italy
  Nuclear Electric, the Government-                                                  143, Sweden 140, Netherlands
  owned company formed to run                                                        53, Canada 2. By 2008 none
  the nuclear stations when the rest        1993:                                    of the resultant waste has been
  of the electricity generating plant       Completion date for Sizewell             returned to the country of origin.
  was privatised, claims income             B slips to November 1994, 11
  from the new reactors would pay           months later than planned.
  for decommissioning old stock.                                                     1994:
  MPs liken this to Robert Maxwell’s                                                 Government announces nuclear
  stealing from the company                                                          reviews, one into whether new
  pension fund to finance his                                                         nuclear stations can be built
  business.                                                                          and the second into whether the
                                                                                     industry can be privatised.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                         15
The result of technical failure,           It is presented to the public as a         is stored. The existing Magnox
     falsification of quality control data and   recycling technology, which was            power stations were due to close
     shortage of orders is – apart from         the original intention, but it has not     by 2010 so that the reprocessing
     mounting financial losses – large and       turned out like that.                      works could complete its work by
     increasing quantities of unwanted and                                                 2012; but this closure has been
     unusable foreign-owned plutonium           The original Magnox reprocessing           postponed until 2016 “at least”,
     and uranium being held at Sellafield        works was opened in 1964 to                according to the NDA. The plant
     at taxpayers’ expense. Continued           extract plutonium from spent fuel.         was originally designed to reprocess
     reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel         The extracted plutonium could, in          1,500 tonnes of spent fuel a year
     from British and foreign reactors          theory, be used for Britain’s nuclear      and unlike Sellafield’s more modern
     will only make this situation worse.       weapons arsenal and for use in fast        nuclear facilities worked close to
     It will create ever larger stockpiles      breeder reactors, a technology then        its design capacity for many years,
     of plutonium and uranium for which         thought a practical possibility for        altogether reprocessing more than
     there is no use or planned disposal        large-scale electricity production.        20,000 tonnes of spent fuel. It is the
     route. The Royal Society in its 2007       The Magnox plant, which employs            workhorse that has produced most
     report on the problem said continuing      830 people, is still in operation and      of Sellafield’s unused stockpile of
     to stockpile very dangerous material       is set to remain open until all the        103 tonnes of plutonium and more
     was not a long term option. “Failure       fuel from the UK’s older Magnox            than 30,000 tonnes of uranium.
     to develop and implement a strategy        reactors is reprocessed. The
     for the management of separated            industry says that reprocessing is         Recently, despite refurbishment,
     plutonium could result in significant       the best disposal route for this fuel      the deterioration through age of the
     avoidable costs and security risks.”       because it cannot be stored for long,      facilities has reduced throughput,
                                                as it deteriorates. The deterioration      according to the NDA. After
     A TALE OF TWO REPROCESSING                 is due to the fact that the means of       processing 1,008 tonnes in the year
     PLANTS – MAGNOX                            removing the fuel from the reactor         to April 2005 the figure dropped
     Reprocessing of spent fuel is              core, the means of transporting it         to 243 tonnes and 594 tonnes in
     designed to recover the plutonium          and of storing it all involve the fuel’s   the following years. In the first 10
     and uranium from fuel which has            immersion in water, which corrodes         months of 2007/08 401 tonnes of
     already been used in a reactor.            the magnesium cans in which it             Magnox fuel had been reprocessed.

       1995:                                      1996, MAY:                                 1996, JULY:
       Government decides to make a               “The privatisation of part of the          Sell-off of the newer nuclear
       second attempt to privatise AGRs           nuclear power industry, set out            stations goes ahead. Government
       and still-to-be-completed Sizewell         in a white paper on 9 May, looks           receives £1.9 billion, less than
       B. Announcing plans to privatise           likely to be a particularly creative       the cost of building Sizewell B
       Nuclear Electric the Government            example of the well-honed                  pressurised water reactor with all
       reduces the clean-up liabilities           technique of bribing voters with           seven AGR stations thrown in for
       from £10.5 billion to £7.2 billion         their own money. In this case, the         nothing.
       without explanation.                       bribe may be financed not just
                                                  by selling assets that taxpayers
                                                  have already paid for once, but
                                                  by money borrowed from future
                                                  tax payers too.” (The Economist

16                                                               VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
Comparing this performance with         radioactivity from reprocessing in      Thorp would also deal with spent
the NDA’s three-year work plan          the Irish Sea are supposed to be        fuel from pressurised and light-water
of 2005 shows how targets have          “close to zero”. This agreement         reactors being operated elsewhere
been missed. The NDA target was         meant the Magnox reprocessing           in the world. However, by the time
2,520 tonnes, but the Magnox works      works had to close by 2012 so that      Thorp was built in the 1990s the
have only managed 1,238 tonnes          it could be cleaned and so that         fast-breeder reactor programme had
throughput so far, less than 50 per     debris could be removed to bring        been abandoned as economically
cent. This reduction of output has      measured radioactivity levels down      unviable. Despite this the
not been due to the ageing of the       markedly by the 2020 deadline. This     Government gave the go-ahead for
Magnox facility but, as Sellafield       commitment has been abandoned           the plant. The reasoning was mainly
Limited now admits, to the failure of   because of the backlog of Magnox        that the nuclear industry had signed
the evaporators and the vitrification    fuel and the closure put back to 2016   foreign contracts to reprocess spent
plant downstream, which has meant       “or later”, by the NDA.                 fuel; it claimed the £2.3 billion plant
reprocessing being slowed. This                                                 would make a £500 million profit for
has led to the closure of the Magnox    A TALE OF TWO REPROCESSING              the UK economy by reprocessing
reprocessing works being postponed      PLANTS –THORP                           7,000 tonnes of fuel in the first 10
for at least four years. In summary,    By the time a second reprocessing       years of operation.
Magnox still has to reprocess a         facility, the Thermal Oxide
backlog of spent fuel because large     Reprocessing Works (Thorp), was         At the time the plant had a full order
parts of the nuclear waste disposal     discussed in the 1970s and built        book for the first 10 years and most
chain have failed.                      20 years later much had changed         of the second decade of the plant’s
                                        in the nuclear industry. Thorp was      planned lifetime. The optimism
These setbacks mean the UK may          designed to deal with spent fuel from   that more new orders would be
be unable to meet its commitment        Britain’s second generation of AGRs,    forthcoming was misplaced, however:
made in 1998 under the OSPAR            currently run by British Energy.        some were subsequently cancelled
Convention to progressively reduce      Plutonium was no longer being           and there have been no new ones.
the concentration of radioactive        recovered for nuclear weapons,
substances in the marine                but in the 1970s the dream was still    Yet before the plant opened
environment. By 2020 levels of          to use it for fast-breeder reactors.    consultants Touche Ross produced

 1996:                                   1997:                                    1997, OCTOBER:
 Despite calls for its cancellation      John Gummer, with his last               It is announced that two nuclear
 because of delays and cost              act as Environment Secretary             waste stores are to be built at
 overruns Sizewell B opens. The          refuses permission for a pilot           Sellafield to take intermediate-
 cost of the station is £2.3 billion.    deep repository for nuclear waste        level waste for the next 50 years.
 Power generation cost is not            under Sellafield partly because           Another 10 planned for the future.
 the 3.02 pence per kilowatt hour        of the industry’s faulty scientific
 predicted at the public inquiry but     case, despite spending £200
 6.25 pence, more than double the        million on site investigations. The
 cost of coal and gas.                   plan to get the depository built by
                                         2015 is abandoned.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                       17
a report that supported claims that
                                                                                                                         the plant would be profitable. The
                                                                                                                         report was published with most
                                                                                                                         financial figures expunged by civil
                                                                                                                         servants. Outside the industry and
                                                                                                                         Government few thought the report
                                                                                                                         was reliable, and so it turned out to
                                                                                                                         be – partly because the Thorp plant
                                                                                                                         has never worked as designed either.
                                                                                                                         In the first 11 years of operation it
                                                                                                                         reprocessed 5,729 tonnes of fuel
                                                                                                                         – well short of the 7,000 tonnes
                                                                                                                         needed to make it profitable.

                                                                                                                         In the plant’s twelfth year only a
                                                                                                                         further 51 tonnes of spent fuel
                                                                                                                         had been reprocessed when a
                                                                                                                         disastrous leak, unnoticed by staff
                                                                                                                         for nine months until its discovery in
                                                                                                                         April 2005, forced Thorp to close.
Credit: PA Photo/British Nuclear Fuels

                                                                                                                         It remained closed for two years
                                                                                                                         while investigations and repairs were
                                                                                                                         undertaken; the company was fined
                                                                                                                         £500,000 for negligence, and had
                                                                                                                         £2 million deducted by the NDA for
                                                                                                                         failing to meet safety standards.
                                                                                                                         Subsequently the staff underwent
                                         The Sellafield MOX plant in the foreground with the Thorp reprocessing plant     new safety training. The leak could
                                         behind. Both plants have failed to work as designed.                            not be repaired but because it can

                                          1998:                                   1998:                                    1999:
                                          Deputy Prime Minister John              Chancellor Gordon Brown                  House of Lords Science and
                                          Prescott signs OSPAR                    announces plan to privatise British      Technology Committee says
                                          agreement to progressively              Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), a plan later       ministers should abandon policy
                                          reduce concentrations of                abandoned and twice resurrected.         of regarding plutonium as a
                                          radioactive substances in the           It has never happened.                   valuable resource and reclassify
                                          marine environment as a result of                                                it as waste.
                                          emissions from Sellafield so that
                                          by 2020 they add “close to zero”        1998:
                                          to historic levels. He says: “I was     The Royal Society says stocks of         1999:
                                          ashamed of Britain’s record in          plutonium are “unacceptably high,        The first shipment of MOX fuel to
                                          the past but now we have shed           posing an environmental threat           Japan (made in the small MOX
                                          the tag of the Dirty Old Man            and creating fear that some may          Demonstration Facility) takes
                                          of Europe and have joined the           be stolen for use in illicit nuclear     place amid furious protests from
                                          family of nations.”                     weapons.”                                Caribbean countries about the

18                                                                                               VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
be by-passed the plant was given          down. This meant the fuel slipped        Society in 2007, has now also
permission to test-run in 2007.           back down into the ponds. It took        been postponed. Even by the most
Although this was judged a success        until the end of March 2008 to fix the    optimistic calculations Thorp will
the plant did not re-start.               problem, when 100 tonnes of foreign      have to remain open until 2015 to
                                          fuel were moved into the plant for the   fulfil contracts that were due to be
The failure of the evaporators            first stage of reprocessing.              completed in 2003.
and the slow throughput of the
vitrification plant meant that, like the   By then Thorp had, in effect, been       STORAGE RUNNING OUT
Magnox reprocessing plant, Thorp’s        closed for 36 months and will never      Another problem that Thorp’s
waste could not be dealt with. The        again operate at more than a fraction    prolonged closure has caused is
NDA said in November 2007 that            of its design capacity. Before Thorp     lack of storage space for spent fuel
the only problem holding back the         opened British Nuclear Fuels, the        that continues to be delivered from
restart of Thorp was the lack of          Government-owned company                 Britain’s seven AGRs. In May 2007,
evaporation capacity. By early 2008,      that then ran the plant, estimated       when the Government signalled its
possibly because of the problems          that the weekly cost of keeping it       decision to sell a further tranche of
that prolonged closure of Thorp           closed would be £2 million – so a        British Energy shares, the company
was causing to upstream storage           three-year closure is very costly        warned potential buyers that if
capacity (see below), Sellafield           for the taxpayer. The 890 staff still    Sellafield was unable to continue to
Limited planned to restart the plant.     have to be paid. One of the effects      take spent fuel from its reactors for
Because of the restriction caused by      of this prolonged shutdown is that       storage the company would be unable
the lack of evaporator capacity until     the contracts to reprocess foreign       to reload them with new fuel. These
2011 the plan was to put a maximum        and domestic spent fuel, claimed         reactors, responsible for around
of 200 tonnes of fuel a year into         still to be worth £2.5 billion, still    14 per cent of the UK’s electricity
Thorp for three years to try to fulfil     cannot be completed. The NDA also        supply, would have to be gradually
its foreign contracts. Yet another        said the inability to complete the       shut down, the company said.
technical failure struck immediately,     contracts means the 2010 closure
when the lifting mechanism to get         date for the plant, proposed in the      In October 2007 some deliveries of
the fuel from the storage ponds           company’s business plan, and             spent Magnox fuel to Sellafield were
into the reprocessing works broke         reported in evidence to the Royal        also suspended. Both types of fuel

  1999:                                     2000:                                   2001:
  Japan orders investigation after          Government postpones plan to            Government conducts another
  BNFL admits forging quality               sell off Sellafield until 2002 “after    energy review. BNFL proposes
  control data for MOX fuel.                the election” according to the          six new nuclear stations mostly
                                            Department of Trade and Industry        on the sites of Magnox stations
                                                                                    that are closed or due to close.
  Japan refuses MOX fuel and is             2000:
  paid £20 million in compensation.         BNFL announces closure dates
  The whole episode, which                  for the eight Magnox stations
  involves sending armed boats to           – the last being Wylfa on
  bring the fuel back to UK, costs          Anglesey in 2010, so the Magnox
  £113 million.                             reprocessing plant can deal with
                                            all 12,000 tonnes of spent fuel
                                            remaining and close in 2012.

VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE                                                                        19
are received at the same handling        which time it was expected that        result the future of Thorp remains
 facilities. There is now a backlog of    Thorp would have opened again.         parlous and it may have a knock-on
 fuel at Sellafield to be stored and       Papers obtained a year later under     effect on British Energy’s ability to
 reprocessed. However, the NDA will       the Freedom of Information Act,        produce electricity from its advanced
 not be drawn on how much storage         although heavily censored, detailed    gas cooled reactors.
 space for spent fuel remains, nor        a series of measures to relieve the
 how soon it will run out, stating that   pressure. This included ordering a     When the NDA came into existence
 the main reason for the suspension       number of new storage flasks and        in April 2005 to deal with the
 of shipments was a change of             reorganising existing storage ponds.   country’s nuclear legacy, it said it
 priorities ordered by the Authority in                                          would review with the Government
 the nuclear clean-up programme, not      In the meantime an average of          whether Thorp should be closed
 a shortage of space. The NDA says        300 tonnes of spent AGR fuel           and the remaining reprocessing
 the existing storage ponds have been     has continued to be delivered to       contracts cancelled. The NDA
 reorganised to squeeze as much           Sellafield each year and none has       confirmed in November 2007 that
 fuel in as possible. Sellafield Limited   been cleared through reprocessing.     this review was ongoing, but in
 said it was reorganising storage         In order to free storage space for     February 2008 the Department of
 facilities and there was “ample room     these continued deliveries some        Business, Enterprise and Regulatory
 for increasing the capacity of the       of the fuel already in ponds has to    Reform (BERR) denied closure was
 storage pond”. The company said          be removed for reprocessing. The       on the agenda. The Government’s
 the NDA was re-examining all the         whole complex was designed for         policy was that Thorp should remain
 options as far as dealing with spent     a constant throughput of fuel into     open until all the contracts had been
 Magnox fuel and would be making an       Thorp.                                 completed. Closure would cause
 announcement soon.                                                              serious political difficulties – partly
                                          From the information already in        because it would be an admission
 However, these answers do not            the public domain it is clear that     that past Government policies
 alter that fact that when Thorp first     Sellafield’s waste stream is not        to continue reprocessing and to
 closed in 2005 the official line was      running as planned and that there is   sanction the MOX plant were serious
 that there was a year’s storage          an increasing backlog of both spent    mistakes on technical and financial
 space available at Sellafield – by        fuel and all forms of waste. As a      grounds.

     2001, OCTOBER:                        2001, OCTOBER:                          2001, NOVEMBER:
     Review reports that onshore wind      Government gives permission to          BNFL reports to the Government,
     farms will provide energy at 1.5      operate the new large Sellafield         its sole shareholder, that it has
     to 2.5 pence per kilowatt hour,       MOX Plant – nine years after            a “net asset deficit” – in other
     offshore wind 2 to 4 pence and        British Nuclear Fuels’ original         words, it is bankrupt. Under the
     nuclear power 3 to 4.5 pence.         planning application and after five      1985 Companies Act for the
     The nuclear power price was said      public consultations.                   directors to continue trading
     to be comparable to wave power,                                               without informing shareholders
     long derided as too expensive                                                 it was bankrupt would be a
     by the Department of Trade and                                                criminal offence. Trade and
     Industry.                                                                     Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt
                                                                                   decides to create a public body,
                                                                                   the Nuclear Decommissioning
                                                                                   Authority (NDA), to take on the
                                                                                   debts and assets of BNFL.

20                                                       VOODOO ECONOMICS AND THE DOOMED NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE
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