Liabilities authority to handle waste

1 January 2002

A Liabilities Management Authority (LMA) will be set up to take on responsibility for most of the UK's public sector civil nuclear liabilities. Most of BNFL's clean-up liabilities and assets set aside to pay for them, along with those of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), will be taken on by the LMA. The liabilities of BNFL and UKAEA are put at £35 billion and £7 billion, respectively.

Making the announcement to the House of Commons, secretary of state for trade and industry Patricia Hewitt said: "We are creating a management regime which can provide the strategic direction and influence required to sustain a clean up programme extending into the next century." Hewitt said that public private partnership (PPP) was a target for BNFL, and that "a PPP could in the right circumstances both be right for BNFL's businesses and improve the management of liabilities at Sellafield." She pointed out that there is still much to do and that the government will reconsider the scope for a PPP in 2004-5.

Responding to the accusation of subsidising the nuclear industry, Hewitt said: "BNFL is a publicly owned company and what we are doing is transferring what are existing public sector liabilities — that can never be anything other than public sector liabilities — from one part of the public sector to another part of the public sector in order that they can be more transparently, rigourously and effectively managed for all our benefits in future." Hewitt said that nuclear waste management and decommissioning was expected to cost around £1 billion over the next 10 to 15 years, but the creation of the LMA would have little or no impact on public finances.

• British Energy (BE) and BNFL have published their submissions to the government's review on radioactive waste (see NEI October 2001, p8).

BE calls for a moratorium on the reprocessing of spent fuel from its AGR units — a move that would allow it to end its contractual commitments to BNFL. The BE submission states: "We should not foreclose using the potential energy value of plutonium and uranium by declaring them to be waste. However, given that there is no technical requirement to reprocess AGR fuel, and that storage would be considerably cheaper, there is no logic in adding to existing stocks (which are already sufficient for any foreseeable requirements)." BNFL also believes that neither plutonium nor separated uranium should be classified as waste, but its submission does not mention the issue of AGR fuel reprocessing. BNFL says that the UK stockpile of separated plutonium represents "a considerable financial and technological investment in a significant potential future energy resource." BNFL advocates geological disposal as the most appropriate "final" solution. The submission notes that barriers to this solution tend to be socio-political and socio-economic, not technological.

BE also believes that the principles of sustainability and "inter-generational equity" would be best met by the phased co-disposal of all radioactive waste to a deep geological repository. The submission says that uncertainty following the 1997 decision to abandon plans for an underground rock laboratory or characterisation facility near Sellafield was the "main problem" with current policy.

Both companies told the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) committee on nuclear waste that the five-year consultation was "unduly long". BE said that the timescale could be reduced as "the range of feasible options is already well understood." Meanwhile, the House of Lords science and technology committee, which issued a major report on UK radioactive wastes early in 1999, said the consultation document was "vacuous" and did not provide enough information to "yield meaningful responses." The committee's chairman said: "The technology to solve the problem is there but apparently not the will. The government's consultative paper, which has taken the better part of two years in gestation, is consulting only about how we would like to be consulted. Effective action is now urgently required."

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