Clean-up of N-plant sites speeded up

East Anglian Daily Times, August 12, 2005

AN ENVIRONMENTAL group has raised fears that a landmark strategy which would hasten the clean-up of nuclear sites - including Sizewell A and Bradwell - could actually pave the way for a new generation of plants.

Greenpeace was responding to the publication of a draft strategy for the decommissioning and clean-up of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's 20 civil nuclear sites, published yesterday.

Among the sites affected is Sizewell A, which started operating in 1966 and is set to cease generating electricity next year, and Bradwell which stopped operating in 2002.

At Sizewell, the plan is to return the site to green field, with the complete removal of all contamination and structures to 1m below ground level.

The timescale for the operation was to achieve this by 2110, but the NDA believes there is a "strong case" for abandoning this approach in favour of defuelling, decommissioning and releasing the site for alternative uses within 25 years or less, achieving site clearance by 2030.

The main advantages of this would be that it could use the existing knowledgeable workforce at the plant, it would make the site available for other uses, there would be fewer intermediate level waste stores needed, and there would be a reduction in the visual impact of the station. The NDA also said it would mitigate the potential threat of coastal erosion and climate change.

NDA chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver described the draft strategy as "ambitious and challenging" but said they were confident it was deliverable. "Put simply, we want to achieve decommissioning and clean up more quickly, more cost effectively, more safely and in a more environmentally-friendly manner," he said.

The strategy was welcomed by the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, but received a mixed reaction from Greenpeace. Shut Down Sizewell chairman Charles Barnett said the cost burden should be shouldered by the present generation, but warned it would be expensive, pointing out the job would cost around £56 billion or more to clear all the sites, compared to a previous estimate of £48 billion.

"In principle we are pleased with the draft report because we, the real greens of the Magnox decommissioning dialogue, have always argued that it needs to be done quickly and it can be done within 30 years of de-fuelling. To do it in 25 years, we are delighted with that," he said.

"The enormous cost of decommissioning these nuclear power stations reflects the folly of the nuclear industry, which is grossly uneconomic and a drain on resources that would be better spent on renewable forms of energy that are much cheaper, ergo - no new nuclear build."

Jean McSorley, spokeswoman for Greenpeace, sounded a note of caution, saying that although it "sounded good", there were caveats, and said her organisation would be looking at the detail. The group had spoken to the NDA about it, and saw "good and bad points in it", she said. "I think the local residents should be very wary," she said. "The concern is you don't clear a site to swap it for a bigger, larger reactor that is going to go on for longer, particularly at Sizewell and Hinkley where there has been talk before for more reactors."

There were those within the nuclear industry who would see an opportunity, she believed. "They just see licensed sites they can go and build on again," she said.

Sizewell B's lifespan stretched to 2035, and a site was previously earmarked for a Sizewell C, she pointed out. "If this is purely about clean-up and decommissioning, all well and good," she said. "The nuclear industry has said time and time again it would build on existing sites if they build new reactors."

Greenpeace supported keeping radioactive waste on site and above ground in state-of-the-art stores, rather than moving it to other parts of the country, she added. "I think most people recognise the equity in current sites keeping their waste," she said. "Some of the residents around reactor sites may well think great, this thing is going to go, but I think the shorthand version does not reflect the reality of what may happen."

Tim Jones, spokesman for the British Nuclear Group, said: "We welcome the publication of the NDA's first draft strategy and will make a full and considered response in due course. "We are already using our considerable experience as site operators and developing innovative solutions to support the NDA in delivering its objectives.

"We have restructured our business to meet and anticipate the needs of the NDA and our highly experienced workforce has consistently demonstrated an ability to respond successfully to change.

Len Green, a supporter of nuclear power and a former spokesman for Sizewell B who previously worked at Sizewell A, applauded the NDA for the approach they were taking. He pointed out that in practical terms, clearing the site earlier meant it would have to be done using robotics, whereas leaving if for 100 years meant it could be treated in a similar way to other dismantling jobs.

"The longer term one would be less costly," he said. But he said the quicker option would be "very good" for the local workforce. There were pros and cons with both options, he said. He welcomed the notion of a Sizewell C being built on the site earmarked, but believed the Sizewell A site might be too small for a new-style plant.

Richard Flynn, communications manager with the NDA, said they were not looking at building new plants on the sites. "That's not on the agenda at all. There's no government policy at the moment on new build. The debate, although it's under way, has not really begun formally yet," he said.

The draft strategy can be found at www.nda.gov.uk

Anyone wanting to submit questions or comments on the draft strategy can write to
Kelly Jackson
NDA Strategy Consultation
Pelham House, Calderbridge
Cumbria CA20 1DB
or email strategy.consultation@nda.gov.uk

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