The private consortium that will manage the decommissioning of Britain’s ageing Magnox nuclear reactors will not be held financially liable if they suffer a major radioactive incident – even if it costs billions of pounds to clear up, it has emerged. The government will indemnify the private contractors, which means the taxpayer will be left to foot the bill for any leak, a similar arrangement to how things stand now. Critics complain that granting the multimillion-pound contract to a private consortium while freeing it of liability for a nuclear incident is such a poor deal for the taxpayer that it will render its new management unaccountable. The government has rejected this claim.
Labour MP Paul Flynn, who is deeply critical of the use of the indemnity, attacked the way it had been presented to parliament for using “chicanery, subterfuge and secrecy”. He accused the government of denying parliament a detailed debate on the costs of nuclear, which has become a major political issue given the coalition’s enthusiasm for building a new generation of reactors designed to help the UK secure its own energy supplies.
“There have been major nuclear accidents about every decade since Three Mile Island,” Flynn said. “More are very likely from technical failure, terrorism, human error or natural disaster. If risk is minimal, nuclear sites could be insured commercially.”
Dr David Lowry, an independent environmental policy and research consultant, said coalition ministers were copying the example of their Labour predecessors. “DECC tried to pull the same scam six years ago when it deviously avoided proper parliamentary scrutiny to permit mainly foreign contractors to earn multibillion-pound profits from the management contract for Sellafield, but left the cost of covering liabilities to the taxpayer,” he said.