The cost of dismantling 20th century nuclear waste in the UK could reach £260billion as aging and degraded sites present increasing challenges, according to analysis presented to an international panel of experts.
As the government pursues nuclear power with the promise of a new generation of reactors, the cost of safely cleaning up waste from previous generations of power plants is skyrocketing.
Degraded nuclear facilities present increasingly dangerous and difficult problems. According to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, aging equipment and electrical systems at Sellafield, which stores much of the country’s nuclear waste and is one of the most dangerous sites in the world, increase the risk of fire. They require increasing maintenance and pose increasing risks. Last October, a faulty light fixture sparked a fire at a facility in Sellafield, shutting it down for several weeks.
An analysis by Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, estimates that the total bill for dismantling the UK’s mountain of nuclear waste will reach £260bn.
Thomas told a conference of international experts that the cost of dismantling Sellafield had risen from £110billion, according to Freedom of Information requests.
The 11 Magnox power stations, built between the 1950s and 1970s, including Dungeness A in Kent, Hinkley Point A in Somerset and Trawsfynydd in North Wales, and seven advanced gas-cooled reactors built in the 1990s, including Dungeness B, which closed last year, Hinkley Point B and Heysham 1 and 2 in Lancashire.
One of the Magnox stations, Trawsfynydd, which closed in 1991, is so badly damaged that major work is needed to make it safe, according to the NDA. “Work which should then be canceled to complete the dismantling of the reactor,” the agency said.
Thomas told the International Nuclear Risk Assessment Panel that similar problems are expected at other Magnox sites. The timetable for the dismantling of old nuclear power plants has been abandoned, as no new timetable has yet been published.
The Nuclear Waste Service said postponing decommissioning 85 years from shutdown, which was the previous policy, is not suitable for all reactors due to their different age and physical conditions. Decommissioning of some Magnox stations will need to be brought forward, the NWS said.
Attempts to speed up the dismantling would only add to the growing bill, said Thomas, which he said had risen to £34billion.
In 2005, the cost of dismantling and disposing of radioactive waste from nuclear power stations built in the 1950s, 70s and 90s was estimated at £51 billion.
Last year, the NDA’s estimates hit £131billion, and its latest annual report said £149billion was needed to pay for the cleanup. But Thomas said rising costs meant the total bill was on course to hit £260billion.
Part of the skyrocketing increase is the cost of constructing a large underground nuclear waste dump or geological disposal facility (GDF) to safely store the 700,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste – approximately the volume of 6,000 double-decker buses – from the country’s past nuclear program.
The mammoth engineering project was originally expected to cost £11billion but the bill is now believed to be £53billion due to uncertainty over the location of the site and the need to provide space for an undetermined amount of next-generation waste. nuclear reactors that the government wants to build.
Four regions of the country are being considered for the GDF, but no decision on its location has yet been made.
“While we are clear about the current legacy of waste that already exists, a GDF should manage additional waste from new facilities under development,” the NWService said. “The actual cost will depend… on how many new nuclear projects the UK develops in the future and any additional waste from these plants.”
Cleanup of past nuclear waste will take more than 100 years, the NDA said. Highlighting the challenges of degrading and dangerous installations, the authority said in its annual report that robots and drones are increasingly being used to carry out site inspections.