Nuclear Waste for Sale


You know you have a problem when you have to start selling off your nuclear assets to pay the cleanup costs for your nuclear assets, all while acquiring new nuclear assets.

sellafieldSellafield Reprocessing plant and Calder Hall power station. Photo via Visit Cumbria

It may seem odd, but that’s just what the British government is doing. Thursday night, assets from Britain’s nuclear power stations were made available to the private sector in an effort to raise £72 billion ($144 billion) for nuclear waste cleanup costs.

The UK has some of the oldest nuclear sites in the world, with 14 having already been closed and partially decommissioned. Just like every other environmental project undertaken by the British government the cleanup of these sites is behind schedule and over budget, to the tune of £300 million ($600 million) for 2006 alone.

What’s an enterprising government to do? Sell off the nuclear processing plants that caused the problems to begin with of course!

The government plans to offload several plants to the highest bidder. According to The Ecologist:

“The sale could include fuel reprocessing plants such as Thorp and the Sellafield Mox Plant – as well as the fuel manufacturing facility at Springfields in Lancashire. Thorp suffered an accident three years ago and has been largely out of action since. Malcolm Wicks, energy minister, recently admitted that the Sellafield Mox plant has produced barely five tonnes of fuel since 2002.”

I’m sure private investors will be lining up to buy the Sellafield Mox plant, which Wicks recently admitted was a “total failure”.

So what, you may ask, is the government planning to do once these old plants are cleaned up? Build brand new ones, obviously. At the same time that John Hutton, UK secretary of state for finance, announced the government’s intention to dump its stake in nuclear provider British Energy, he also committed to building many more nuclear power plants.

I’m not against nuclear power, personally I think it has great promise. But the British government has to learn from its past mistakes, and learning from mistakes is not something governments are generally great at. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that governments are frequently stupid. Let’s hope that in a few decades time the British aren’t auctioning off the assets from their newer power plants to be able to pay the cleanup bill.

Info from The Ecologist