a.m.a chosen as Preferred Bidder to process Sellafield nuclear waste

Joint venture company a.m.a has been selected as the Preferred Bidder for a contract to process the nuclear waste arising from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site in Cumbria.

Sellafield Ltd, the company responsible for ‘safely delivering decommissioning, reprocessing and nuclear waste management activities on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’ (NDA), announced yesterday (14 April) that a.m.a has been selected as the Preferred Bidder for its Silos Direct Encapsulation (SDP) project, thought to be the ‘only project of its type in the world’.

Created especially for the SDP contract, a.m.a comprises French nuclear power company AREVA, British construction company Mace, and British project management firm Atkins.

If awarded the contract, a.m.a will process Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) recovered from one of the oldest nuclear waste silos on the Sellafield site, the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo. The waste will then be packaged ready for ‘long-term storage’.

A second joint venture, which has not been identified, is also in the running for the contract.

Sellafield Ltd will now enter a period of ‘preferred bidder clarification and confirmation of commitment’ with a.m.a whilst the contract is finalised and all legal processes are completed.

The final contract award will require approval from the NDA.

Scott Reeder, Sellafield Ltd’s Chief Projects Officer, said: “The market recognised the challenges presented by this important and complex project and two strong joint venture organisations emerged to tender for the contract. Sellafield Ltd was very pleased with the quality, capability and commitment offered by each of these organisations.”

Sellafield site background

The decommissioning of Sellafield, and the need to find underground storage for nuclear waste, is of growing importance, as currently all hazardous waste in the UK is contained in surface-level stores across the country.

Sellafield is scheduled to be decommissioned over the next decade, fuelling the urgency for finding suitable ways of dealing with nuclear waste, especially as a report released by the National Audit Office in November 2012 condemned the existing storage of nuclear waste at the Sellafield site as ‘outdated’.

The report went on to outline that some radioactive waste facilities had ‘deteriorated so much that their contents pose significant risks to people and the environment’, and that long-term solutions for hazardous waste disposal had been ‘neglected’ in Sellafield Limited’s planning.

Further to this, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released a report showing that the cost of decommissioning Sellafield has already reached £67.5 billion and shows ‘no indication’ of slowing down. (But Sellafield Ltd has said that it is focusing on delivering a ‘return on investment for the taxpayer‘ through the ‘embedding of a new acquisition strategy, which fundamentally changes the way [it does] business and introduces value for the tax-payer through performance based contracting with the supply chain’).

However, the search for a viable nuclear waste storage facility stalled last year, after councillors from Cumbria County Council voted against continuing the search for potentially hosting a £12 billion underground disposal facility for radioactive waste in the area.

By a vote of seven to three, the council decided against continuing the search for a potential site for a deep geological repository for ‘higher activity’ radioactive waste in West Cumbria. The council also voted to exclude the two districts of Copeland and Allerdale from further consideration in the government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process, despite local residents supporting the project.

According to the council, doubts over the suitability of the geology at Cumbria as well as fears over damaging the Lake District’s image were reasons for voting against continuing with the search.

The decision came as a blow to government, as West Cumbria was the only remaining British region willing to voluntarily host the controversial site.

Despite these problems managing nuclear waste, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey has granted planning consent for the construction of the UK’s first new nuclear power station since 1995, Hinkley Point C, in a move intended to boost a low-carbon energy mix.

AREVA, one of the a.m.a partners, will take a 10 per cent stake in the Hinkley Point C project and will supply the plant’s nuclear steam supply system (NSSS), the instrumentation & control (I&C) system, and some of its fuel.

Read more about the dangerous legacy of nuclear waste.