AMEC wins £7bn Sellafield clean-up job

The UK firm's consortium has won the massive government contract to clean up Sellafield..

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said today that the £1.3bn-a-year contract to clean up (and run) the nuclear waste facility at Sellafield has been awarded to Nuclear Management Partners – a consortium of UK engineering group AMEC, US company Washington International and Areva of France. The initial contract lasts for five years, meaning the three firms are guaranteed to share fees of about £7bn – but it could be extended for as long as 17 years in total, so it could turn out to be very lucrative indeed…

The three firms apparently fought off three other bidding groups to win the massive contract, with some of the world’s biggest companies itching to get their hands on the Cumbrian site. The winners, who’ll probably don their rubber gloves and lead aprons for the first time in October, will have two main tasks: they have to run the bits of Sellafield that are still fully operational (the waste handling, mainly), while starting the enormous clean-up job of all the old radioactive plant and equipment on the site. And it’s a big task: a recent government report suggested it could take more than 100 years before Sellafield is clean enough for you to be able to see your face in (while it’s still attached to your body, anyway).

Just to make the job even more challenging, they’re going to inherit a workforce that’s currently embroiled in an industrial dispute about their latest pay offer – they’ve rejected a below-inflation 2% rise and are threatening to walk out on strike unless they get something nearer 4%. And of course there’ll be the usual opposition from environmental groups, who are worried about the possible risks of private sector firms taking on such a massive project – what if these unscrupulous profit-hungry corporates decide to cut corners in an attempt to increase their margins?

The extent of the environmental risk may be debatable, but there’s no question that Britain’s nuclear clean-up job is going to be an awfully dear do. One estimate puts the total cost at £73bn – and although the NDA says the true figure is actually £61bn, what are the chances of this spiralling upwards? Very high, according to the House of Commons' committee of public accounts: ‘We cannot be confident that even this figure will not be significantly upped when the estimates are next revised,’ chairman Edward Leigh said this week.

And then there's the new power stations currently in the pipeline. The government insists that the operators (i.e. the energy companies) will foot the eventual clean-up bill for these new plants, rather than us poor taxpayers – but then they probably said the same thing about Northern Rock...

In today's bulletin:
Primark flags - but still trounces M&S
'35 Women Under 35' party the night away 
AMEC wins £7bn Sellafield clean-up job
MT's week in 60 Seconds
Lessons in training, from YouTube 

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