Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In 2013-14 every UK taxpayer spent £252.53 on looking after nuclear waste. Why make more?

We don't know what to do with nuclear waste, which is toxic for thousands of years and is extremely expensive to look after. In 2013-14 every UK taxpayer spent a staggering £252.53 on looking after this waste. Why make more?

How much is there? 

4.5 million cubic metres (4.9 million tonnes), enough to fill Wembley Stadium four times over. 1,100 cubic metres is very dangerous high level waste and 290,000 cubic metres is intermediate level waste. It's managed by a government body called the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

4% more will be produced in the future from the UK's continuing nuclear defence capability (waste estimated up to 2060) and its continuing nuclear-powered submarine programme (waste estimated up to 2100). [Source: NDA]

How much does it cost?

It costs £3.31 billion a year to manage the nuclear waste mountain, of which £2.09 billion comes from taxpayers. [Source: NDA]

The government funding comes from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Its total annual budget last year (2014-15) was £3.4 billion, so two thirds of this is for looking after Britain's nuclear waste mountain.

So on this basis, every one of the 29.7 million taxpayers in the UK spends £114.48 a year on looking after nuclear waste.

But this figure is not the same every year. In 2013/14, 95.8% of the roughly £7.9 billion DECC budget (£7.5 billion) went towards cleaning up the UK's nuclear legacy

Above: pie chart of the DEL budgetChart by Carbon Brief.

On this basis, every UK taxpayer spends £252.53 a year on looking after nuclear waste.

Whatever the average in the future will be, it will continue for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Perhaps as long into the future as the building of Stonehenge is in the past. And we have no idea why that was built, so will people in the future know what our relics are?

The above chart of DECC's budget during 2013/14 shows what government calls "annually managed expenditure" (AME). Most of this relates to nuclear decommissioning. Most went towards cleaning up the UK's nuclear legacy. Source: Cabinet Office and DECC annual report and accounts. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The costs are rising.

The estimated costs of cleaning up the Sellafield nuclear site rose an estimated £5 billion to £53 billion in February this year, according to a March statement from Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge. She says: "It has taken far too long for the Authority to deal with management incompetence at Sellafield".

A private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), that had been running the clean-up at Sellafield was stripped of its contract in January for reasons of incompetence.

Until the recent cuts DECC's budget was just 1.2% of the total government budget. Since then it's been told by George Osborne to save a further £70 million. The nuclear waste amount can't be changed for safety reasons.

Since most of DECC's budget is for managing nuclear waste, shouldn't the department be renamed The Department for Nuclear Waste?

Where should the waste go?

It's now held in temporary storage ponds on the north west coast of England, in Sellafield. These ponds are deteriorating, and leaks occur. So for 50 years the government and the industry has been looking for a permanent storage place underground.

It has not found one, because nobody wants it beneath their feet, not even the good people of Sellafield themselves.

So, since April the government can override local councils and force nuclear waste dumps on a community, under a law that was rushed through in the final hours of the last parliament. This is like the recent announcement that would allow fracking anywhere that the onshore oil and gas industry wants, against local wishes, if the government says so.

Is this what you want?

None of the above gives me any reason to be confident about Britain building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Renewable energy can give much better value for money and provide baseload power in the cases of hydroelectric and marine power, and renewable gas, while electricity storage solutions are fast-tracked for Research and Development to store intermittently generated electricity from wind and solar, without leaving a toxic and expensive legacy.

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