The "enormous" legacy of nuclear waste at the Sellafield site has been allowed to build up, with the cost of decommissioning the site reaching £67.5 billion, with no indication of when the cost will stop rising, according to a new report.
The Public Accounts Committee said the authority dealing with the country's nuclear legacy had not been able to show what value it was getting for the taxpayer. The committee said it also was not clear what wider economic benefits had been achieved from the "enormous" amount of public money spent at Sellafield - currently around £1.6 billion a year.
Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said a solution to the problem of long-term storage of nuclear waste was as far away as ever following last week's decision by leaders of Cumbria County Council not to press ahead with a study for a possible site.
Successive governments had failed to get to grips with the "critical problem", said Ms Hodge, adding: "An enormous legacy of nuclear waste has been allowed to build up on the Sellafield site. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) believes that its decommissioning plan is credible but it has not been sufficiently tested and uncertainties remain - not least around what precisely is in the waste that lies in the legacy ponds and silos.
"It is unclear how long it will take to deal with hazardous radioactive waste at Sellafield or how much it will cost the taxpayer. Of the 14 current major projects, 12 were behind schedule in the last year and five of those were over budget."
Ms Hodge said taxpayers were not getting a good deal from the NDA's arrangement with international consortium Nuclear Management Partners on a plan to improve Sellafield Limited's management of the site. "Last year the consortium was rewarded with £54 million in fees, despite only two out of 14 major projects being on track," she said.
The report said deadlines for cleaning up Sellafield had been missed, while total lifetime costs for decommissioning the site continued to rise each year, reaching £67.5 billion.
"It is essential that the authority brings a real sense of urgency to its oversight of Sellafield so that the timetable for reducing risks does not slip further and costs do not continue to escalate year on year.... Basic project management failings continue to cause delays and increase costs, while doubts remain over the robustness of the plan, in particular whether the Authority is progressing the development of the geological disposal facility as quickly as possible," said the report.
John Clarke, chief executive officer of the NDA, said: "Prior to the NDA's inception there was no credible lifetime plan for Sellafield and tough decisions about how we ultimately decommission the site had simply been put off for future generations to deal with. We are now facing up to those challenges and for the first time we have a proper plan in place for the decommissioning of Sellafield which lays out in detail programmes of work for every area of the site."
Gary Smith, national officer of the GMB union, said: "There needs to be immediate change at the top of the consortium and a radical re-evaluation of the piecemeal hiving-off of the nuclear sector to private companies that are clearly ill-equipped to cope and have little interest in ensuring Britain has world-class nuclear facilities."