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British nuclear waste goes on sale


7th March, 2008

Last night British nuclear assets went on sale to the private sector to help the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority raise cash to help pay for its £72bn nuclear waste clean up bill.

The UK has some of the world's oldest nuclear sites. Fourteen plants have closed and are being decommissioned, the estimate cost of this operation will be £73bn by 2010 according to a report by the National Audit Office.

The Office reported last year that five sites suffered big cuts in their decommissioning budgets last year. At the same time the clearing of contaminated sites is behind schedule and has a £300m budget deficit for 2006 alone. There is a need for funds and the sale of these assets, the same ones that caused the problems, is seen to be a solution.

The sale could include fuel reprocessing plants such as Thorp and the Sellafield Mox Plant - as well as the fuel manufacturing facility at Springfields in Lancashire. Thorp suffered an accident three years ago and has been largely out of action since. Malcolm Wicks, energy minister, recently admitted that the Sellafiied Mox plant has produced barely five tonnes of fuel since 2002.

This announcement comes as John Hutton, secretary of state for business, dropped a commitment to maintaining at least a 29.9% stake in the nuclear generator, British Energy. He also made clear the government could eventually dispose of the full 39% holding it acquired when the company ran into financial trouble.

Hutton said he wanted to speed up the building of nuclear plants and saw them providing "significantly" more power over the next two decades than the current 19% of electricity that comes from the British Energy facilities. These are gradually being phased out and shut down. "If we can accelerate the timetable [of bringing new plants on stream in 2018], we should. We've got to be completely serious about this ... we should keep our foot down on the pedal," he told the Financial Times.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2008


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