Waste Management

Sellafield / Spending Watchdog Launches Investigation Into ‘Risks and Costs’

By David Dalton
16 February 2024

Site holds 85% of all UK’s nuclear waste, much of which is stored in ageing facilities

Spending Watchdog Launches Investigation Into ‘Risks and Costs’
Sellafield is the UK’s most complex and challenging nuclear site. Courtesy Sellafield Ltd.

Britain’s public spending watchdog has launched an investigation into risks and costs at Sellafield, the UK’s largest and most challenging nuclear site.

The National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinises the use of public funds, has announced it will examine whether the site, in Cumbria, northwest England, is managing and prioritising the risks and hazards of the site effectively as well as deploying resources appropriately and continuing to improve its project management.

The findings of its investigation are expected to be published this autumn.

The NAO said Sellafield is the UK’s most complex and challenging nuclear site. It holds around 85% of all the UK’s nuclear waste, much of which is stored in ageing facilities.

Unlike modern nuclear facilities, many of the buildings at Sellafield were built with limited consideration of how they would ultimately be decommissioned.

“Cleaning up the site is a long-term endeavour, likely to last well into the next century. It is expected to cost £84 billion (in discounted prices), though this cost estimate is highly uncertain,” the NAO said.

Sellafield Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, manages the site, spending £2.5bn last year.

The NAO has reported regularly on the challenges the NDA faces at Sellafield, most recently in 2018 when it concluded that “work to reduce risk and high hazard at Sellafield has taken an encouraging turn for the better.” However, more work was required to measure, evaluate and communicate progress more effectively.

In December the UK’s nuclear regulator said it was giving Sellafield Ltd “robust scrutiny” amid concerns that the organisation’s computer systems were not secure enough.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation’s comments came after it was forced to deny claims the site had suffered a serious security breach at the hands of Russia and China-linked hackers.

A report in The Guardian newspaper alleged that state-backed criminals had infiltrated “the highest echelons” of Sellafield’s IT systems and left behind so-called sleeper malware – malicious software that is hidden and later used for spying or carrying out crippling attacks.

Sellafield, formerly known as Windscale, is a large multi-function nuclear site. Primary activities are nuclear waste processing and storage and nuclear decommissioning. Former activities included nuclear power generation from 1956 to 2003 and nuclear fuel reprocessing from 1952 to 2022.

The National Audit Office has reported regularly on the challenges faced at Sellafield.

Pen Use this content