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Sellafield in Danger of Undermining Regulatory Standards

 

SELLAFIELD�S long-term future hinges on a vital piece of kit which will cost hundreds of millions of pounds � double the original estimate.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will now have to go cap in hand to the Government to ask for the money. The massive piece of equipment, known as Evaporator D, is crucial to future reprocessing, reducing the risks from high hazard radioactive wastes � and safeguarding jobs.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, which issues Sellafield�s licence to operate, said �Further evaporator capacity at Sellafield is essential for the longer term safe management of highly active liquor.�

 

Both the NII and the Environment Agency have expressed concern that �funding shortfalls� for the operation of Sellafield could undermine regulatory standards. Evaporator D has been described as �politically sensitive� at a time of escalating costs.

It was not until a meeting  of the West Cumbria Stakeholders Group that the issue came to light. The NDA�s executive programme director, Jim Morse, took members aback by saying that Evaporator D would cost several hundred millions pounds � a twofold increase. He said a bid would have to be made to Government to finance the equipment.

Afterwards chairman David Moore said: �I was surprised to hear all this. This situation is worrying for the community and the workforce. It is up to the NDA and the Government to make a commitment to Sellafield.

�Evaporator D is crucial not only to future reprocessing in Thorp but to get rid of the highly active liquor which means more safety. And if we want to get any of the new nuclear reactors, the best way forward is to carry on reprocessing the fuel.�

Union convenor Peter Kane said: �Evaporator D is vital for reprocessing otherwise we won�t be able to do it long term, not just for any future orders for Thorp but also to complete the contracts we�ve got. I thought the money was all agreed.�

The NII has put a legal limit on the amounts of high active liquor that can be stored at Sellafield and wants to see stocks diminished. One of the NDA�s priorities is also to reduce the higher radioactive hazards present on the site.

Sellafield Ltd said the site currently had three evaporators used to concentrate highly active liquors prior to storage and vitrification but evaporator D was required for the Sellafield �lifetime plan�, covering what had to be achieved before final clean-up.

Stakeholders were told last week by the NII: �We wrote to Sellafield Ltd to express our concerns about changes to the lifetime plan and associated delays to clean- up work brought about by funding shortfalls and project delays.�

Site boss Barry Snelson said the funding gap was being closed thanks to hard and more efficient working. He said Evaporator D was �a complex process with various options.�

The evaoporator vessel is so big vessel it would either have to be shipped to Sellafield in modules or built completely from scratch next to the high level waste plants.

The NDA  described evaporator capacity as �critical� but a review was being carried out into exactly what was required before a bid is made to Government. �Costs have increased significantly and along with Sellafield Ltd we are undertaking a review to ensure we are continuing to meet strategic objectives,� said the NDA.