The government is shortly set to announce its decision to go ahead with building a second Sellafield MOX plant (SMP) at a cost of £3 billion.
MOX is a mixed uranium-plutonium oxide used as a nuclear reactor fuel.
But the history of the first MOX plant, which was forced to close down several years ago, makes this decision almost unbelievable.
Sellafield has been in the news this week over the cost of decommissioning the plant due to the risks posed by nuclear waste. What hasn't been highlighted is what a rip-off the entire project was from the start.
The fist plant cost £490m, plus £113m due to deficiencies in the quality-checking process linked to falsification of pellet-diameter data exposed in Japan. Another £100m was spent decommissioning the plant - so £700m in total.
For this cost to the taxpayer it was publicly announced that it would produce 120 tons of MOX per year.
A decade later, when it was closed down, it had produced not 1,200 tons, but just 13 tons. None of which it had actually sold.
So we spent nearly three-quarters of a billion pounds to produce 1 per cent of what was promised.
Build another one - surely not?
But that's exactly what the government's going to do.
I was environment minister from 1997, when the first plant was established, to 2003.
I strenuously opposed the whole SMP project.
In 2001 I sent a comprehensive six-page minute to Margaret Beckett, then environment secretary, setting out in detail the grounds on which the economic case for the SMP was not convincing.
This whole episode was a classic example of "fixing" - No 10 was fixed by a powerful industrial lobby and the project was then "justified" by a carefully chosen consultancy, ADL, which provided the figures which purported to make it worthwhile.
ADL submitted a report - never made public even in redacted form but which I saw - which claimed that the net value of the SMP over the ensuing decade was £199m.
In fact, as I showed in my September 2001 minute, the various bases for this claim were over-optimistic to the point of fantasy and the most likely figure was probably negative - as indeed it turned out.
I later wrote to Sir John Bourn, the comptroller and auditor-general, asking that the economics and accounting of the SMP should be fully investigated.
His reply stated that "the SMP is yet to produce sufficient MOX fuel to meet a customer order," but that "it would be much more expensive to close the plant immediately than to continue operating."
Not long afterwards the plant closed.
I later wrote again to the National Audit Office requesting that it "investigate the economic evidence used to justify the licensing of the SMP and publish any report before a decision is taken on whether or not to proceed with a second plant."
I was told by then comptroller and auditor-general Amyas Morse that he had "decided not to investigate and report on the decision to license the plant because it was taken a long time ago and the scope of the AD Little report commissioned to assess the economic case was very narrowly focused and specific to the circumstances of the decision to be taken."
I need hardly point out the poverty and irrelevance of these excuses.
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