Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

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This article is part of a series on the
2005-2006 national debate on nuclear
power in the UK

For more articles on this topic,
see the NuclearSpin website

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) describes itself as "a non-departmental public body, set up in April 2005 under the Energy Act 2004 to take strategic responsibility for the UK's nuclear legacy. Our core objective is to ensure that the 20 civil public sector nuclear sites under our ownership are decommissioned and cleaned up safely, securely, cost effectively and in ways that protect the environment for this and future generations." [1]

PR team

To spin their case, the NDA has brought in high profile PR experts who are used to fighting controversial schemes. The NDA has hired Jon Phillips, the ex-head of communications for Heathrow Airport to be its head of Comms. Phillips led BAA's successful campaign for a fifth terminal at Heathrow and is reported to be earning £70,000 to push the pro-nuclear spin. He is heading a ten person team based in London.

The NDA also has a PR team based in Cumbria headed by Bill Hamilton ex- director at Grayling and public affairs director at Safeway, and recently group public affairs director for Transport for London.[2]

The Revolving Door

The NDA's senior executives include senior figures from within the nuclear industry including BNFL or those who were closely involved from a regulatory perspective:

  • Richard Mrowicki - Head of Stakeholder Relations - ex-Deputy Director, Liabilities Management Unit, DTI and ex-BNFL where he was involved in stakeholder relations. [3] [4]
  • Richard Waite - The Engineering Director - Ex-BAe Systems. Before he joined the defence industry in 1998, Waite spent 18 years working in the civil nuclear in dustry, including Director of Projects for Nuclear Electric, the organisation that procured, constructed and ran the UK's nuclear power plants. [5]
  • David Hayes- Strategy and Commercial Director. Ex-DTI. Hayes was "at the forefront of work to establish the NDA". Been heavily involved in nuclear issues, including reviewing BNFL's corporate strategy and revised MOX plans as well as the privatisation of British Energy.
  • Richard Griffin - was Nuclear Coal and Liabilities Unit at the DTI who helpled set up the NDA. [6]
  • Lawrence Williams - Nuclear Safety and Security Director - Ex- Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations and Director of the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Safety Directorate.
  • Mark Leggett- Ex-John Brown, Bechtel and Aker Kvaerner.

Bell Pottinger

The NDA has hired Bell Pottinger Communications to run its PR led by Chime Communications division chairman Kevin Murray. Also involved are Bell Pottinger Public Affairs director Tim Walker and Corporate & Financial director Mark Herbert. The account is said to be worth £100,000.[7]

In November / December 2005, Private Eye revealed that Bell Pottinger was receiving £8,000 a month to give strategic advice to the NDA. The Eye noted: " Why is the Bell Pottinger PR firm passing on potted biographies of MPs focusing on their supposed attitude to nuclear power to the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA)? The NDA's job, after all, is to clean up the mess left by the old atomic generation, not to promote new nuclear power stations."

The Eye continued: "The files certainly give the impression that Bell Pottinger thinks the NDA is part of the cosy nuclear club rather than a body charged with sorting out some of the worst problems created by the industry. In its bidding document Bell Pottinger emphasised that its chairman Kevin Murray 'worked on the BNFL account during a tumultuous four-year period'. It also said Bell Pottinger director Tim Walker was a 'former special adviser to Jack Cunningham' when he was a very pro-nuclear MP and spent 'more than a decade closely involved in the politics of the nuclear industry'. [8]

Experts in spin for the nuclear industry

Using the Freedom of Information Act, NuclearSpin has obtained a copy of Bell Pottinger's pitch to the NDA. It underlines the extent of the company's involvement with the nuclear industry. It states that Bell Pottinger's consultants "have worked in a variety of capacities with the nuclear industry. These include:

  • Providing strategic advice and support for the Chairman and Chief Executive of BNFL including crisis management
  • Advising BNFL on corporate and financial communications
  • Developing day-to-day public affairs programmes for BNFL and the BNIF
  • Working with Parliamentarians with interests in the nuclear industry
  • Monitoring and tracking nuclear issues ranging from Parliamentary committees to public enquiries
  • Directly managing the in-house communications for the UKAEA and AEA Technology through privatisation
  • Briefing and rehearsing industry executives appearing before Select Committees."[1][2]

The NDA's briefing paper for potential PR consultants boasts that the "NDA is not unique in being an organisation committed to open and transparent engagement with stakeholders, but it may well be the first organisationthat has such objectives built in to its statutory requirements". Nevertheless, Bell Pottinger's successful pitch includes:

  • "Advising on the handling of particular announcements identifying the issues and bear traps in advance, advising on messaging, media strategy and tactics, questions and answers"
  • "Advising on an appropriate contact programme ie who are the journalists that should be courted, what are their issues, how best to handle them"
  • "Providing off the record information".[3][4]

Experts in spin for the nuclear industry

Using the Freedom of Information Act, NuclearSpin has obtained a copy of Bell Pottinger's pitch to the NDA. It underlines the extent of the company's involvement with the nuclear industry. It states that Bell Pottinger's consultants "have worked in a variety of capacities with the nuclear industry. These include:

  • Providing strategic advice and support for the Chairman and Chief Executive of BNFL including crisis management
  • Advising BNFL on corporate and financial communications
  • Developing day-to-day public affairs programmes for BNFL and the BNIF
  • Working with Parliamentarians with interests in the nuclear industry
  • Monitoring and tracking nuclear issues ranging from Parliamentary committees to public enquiries
  • Directly managing the in-house communications for the UKAEA and AEA Technology through privatisation
  • Briefing and rehearsing industry executives appearing before Select Committees."[5][6]

The NDA's briefing paper for potential PR consultants boasts that the "NDA is not unique in being an organisation committed to open and transparent engagement with stakeholders, but it may well be the first organisationthat has such objectives built in to its statutory requirements". Nevertheless, Bell Pottinger's successful pitch includes:

  • "Advising on the handling of particular announcements identifying the issues and bear traps in advance, advising on messaging, media strategy and tactics, questions and answers"
  • "Advising on an appropriate contact programme ie who are the journalists that should be courted, what are their issues, how best to handle them"
  • "Providing off the record information".[5][7]

'Off the record, we're open and trustworthy'

Minutes of meetings between Bell Pottinger and the NDA reveal what the PR company has been doing since it won the contract. It told the NDA that its approach with the media "should be to establish credibility and claim high ground, eg around legacy handed to future generations, job preservation". Bell Pottinger agreed to provide "analysis of key players and their positions in relation to the industry" (though this was later shelved) and run a briefing programme aimed at national newspaper editors to "explain the NDA and build a sense independence, trust, credibility and openness". Even though these briefings were led by the NDA head Anthony Cleaver and supported by Jon Phillips, Bell Potinger recommended that they "should be off the record".[8][9][10]

Bell Pottinger is also being paid to approve the NDA's submission to a House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee hearing (see below), and coach NDA executives on what they should tell the committee's MPs. Minutes of a meeting between Bell Pottinger and the NDA, dated 13 January 2006, notes: "Evidence was being drafted for the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee, JP (Jon Phillips of the NDA) to pass to TW (Tim Walker of Bell Pottinger) for comments. It was agreed to arrange a rehearsal to be arranged when Committee dates have been set."[11]

Another document suggests that the NDA is interested in how public perception of the safety of nuclear power could be changed. Bell Pottinger produced "an assessment of the perception of the Caithness region created by media and online sources" for the NDA. The introduction notes: 'Work is underway to stimulate the growth of new business in the Caithness area of the North Highlands, partly to compensate for the future loss of jobs as a result of the decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear site' and adds that 'the external perception of what it is like to live and work in Caithness will be of critical importance'. [12]

The study finds that in the national press, 'sources created the following perceptions:

A variety of concerns over the risks associated with nuclear activity indicate that this is an undesirable place to work and live On a site with a history of proven and suspected safety problems, the receipt of high-risk material from Georgia and suggestions of Dounreay as a major terrorist target do not bode well for the area. The contamination of workers (2000) and discovery of radioactive particles on the beach near the plant suggest that the region is at a considerable risk from nuclear activity. There have been investigations into the links between nuclear plants and cancer clusters (1996) and the suggested link with child cancers (2005). A major local landowner has been sufficiently concerned by the emission of radioactive material that he has sued the Dounreay plant. Tourists may be at risk from radioactive particles and golf courses have been forced to close due to the risk. Dounreay was formerly a popular beach, though ruined aesthetically by the erection of the plant. The waters may contain 'nuclear nasties' causing meningitis, ear and kidney infections. The plant is an eye-sore on the coastline and although an integral part of the present economy, it is a deterrent to individuals hearing a range of stories over recent decades up to the present on the potential horror which could stem from mismanagement of nuclear material.'

Nevertheless, the document concludes that 'there is enormous potential to make further use of the Internet as a tool to enhance perceptions of the area, promote new business and counter the effect of the inevitable negative stories in the press.'

Under Investigation

In December 2005, the Commons Trade and Industry Committee announced an inquiry into the work of the NDA and UKAEA as both Non-Departmental Public Bodies are sponsored by the DTI. The Committee will investigate:

  • The remit and activities of the NDA and UKAEA;
  • The compatibility of current plans for the NDA and UKAEA with any increased reliance on nuclear power generation;
  • The NDA and UKAEA's performance and accountability.[9]

A £70 Billion Bill

In March 2006, the NDA announced that the nuclear waste clean-up programme could cost more than £70bn, some £14 billion higher than previously thought.[10]

Mission creep? Bell Pottinger profiles MPs for the NDA

Soon after its formation, the NDA retained the services of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs. According to Bell Pottinger, its remit was

"...to provide support for the development and implementation of [the NDA's] communications and public affairs strategy... The agency will provide strategic advice, media relations advice and implementation, as well as political monitoring." [11]

According to Private Eye magazine, the value of the contract was £8,000 a month. The magazine used the Freedom of Information Act (UK) to discover that Bell Pottinger was supplying the NDA with "...biographies of members of the Commons trade and industry select committee who oversee the NDA. The files focus heavily, and not always accurately, on whether the MP's are 'pro-' or 'anti' nuclear." [12].

The Eye noted: "Why is the Bell Pottinger PR firm passing on potted biographies of MPs focusing on their supposed attitude to nuclear power to the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA)? The NDA's job, after all, is to clean up the mess left by the old atomic generation, not to promote new nuclear power stations."

The Eye continued: "The files certainly give the impression that Bell Pottinger thinks the NDA is part of the cosy nuclear club rather than a body charged with sorting out some of the worst problems created by the industry. In its bidding document Bell Pottinger emphasised that its chairman Kevin Murray 'worked on the BNFL account during a tumultuous four-year period'. It also said Bell Pottinger director Tim Walker was a 'former special adviser to Jack Cunningham' when he was a very pro-nuclear MP and spent 'more than a decade closely involved in the politics of the nuclear industry'. [13]

For example, in his profile, Wolverhampton South West MP Rob Marris was

"...described as 'a long-standing supporter of Greenpeace' and not a 'proponent of nuclear energy'. Marris told the Eye he was not in principal anti-nuclear. He added the NDA should consider why it is 'spending money on Bell Pottinger to record the attitude of select committee [members] to nuclear power, as this is beyond their remit; In any case it might have been simpler and cheaper for the NDA to ask MP's what they think, as we would be happy to tell them.' The Eye asked the NDA why Bell Pottinger was producing these files. Its spokesman said: 'We take no position on nuclear energy generation. We did not ask Bell Pottinger to find out MP's' views on that question, this is just something they have supplied. These may have been standard biogs on their files anyway.' [14]

Bell Pottinger's concern about the pro-nuclear credentials of the select committee members certainly seems to have little relevance to the NDA's mission statement: "To deliver a world class programme of safe, cost-effective, accelerated and environmentally responsible decommissioning of the UK's civil nuclear legacy in an open and transparent manner and with due regard to the socio-economic impacts on our communities." [15]

In August 2006, PR Week reported that the NDA has put its whole PR account up for tender including "strategic counsel, PA [public affairs] and stakeholder engagement. It also covers promotion of the NDA's role in encouraging local economic regeneration." [16] (Sub req'd). It is understood that Bell Pottinger will repitch for the account.

Pay it again, Sam: the case of the missing £15bn

According to Steve Thomas of the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU),

"Consumers and taxpayers have arguably already paid twice over for decommissioning the Magnox plants and under the provisions of the Energy Act 2004 that allowed the setting up of the NDA, future taxpayers will have to pay a third time.
"...In the 1989 pre-privatisation accounts of the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and the South of Scotland Electricity Board (SSEB), £3.8bn of assets was set against the decommissioning liability. Taking account of inflation and allowing, say, 3% annual real rate of return, this sum should have about doubled by now. This notional amount was simply absorbed by government when the industry was privatised and was used to subsidise government spending.
"There was also the Fossil Fuel Levy, which was a sum paid by electricity consumers (10% of their electricity bills) from 1990-98, to which electricity consumers contributed about £8bn. Michael Heseltine told Parliament this was 'to decommission old unsafe stations'. In fact, it was used for almost anything but that, and paid for a new nuclear power plant (Sizewell B) and was unrestricted cash income for Nuclear Electric to pay for its losses. Despite its best efforts, Nuclear Electric, the nationally owned company that inherited all the CEGB's nuclear assets, did not manage to spend it all and £2.7bn remained unspent when the nuclear industry was reorganised in 1996. A small amount went to British Energy's (the privatised company that inherited the more modern nuclear plants) segregated decommissioning fund and the rest went to BNFL, who inherited the Magnox plants. There, it was placed in the Nuclear Liabilities Investment Portfolio (NLIP), a fund that was separately identified in BNFL's accounts, but not strictly segregated. So if BNFL had faced bills it could not otherwise have paid, it would have to have drawn this fund down. The NLIP, with inflation and some capital growth now stands at about £4bn." [17]

The decommissioning funds that have been spent on other purposes can thus be estimated from Thomas's figures:

(2 x 3.8) + ((4/2.7) x (8-2.7)) = £15.45bn.

The factor of 4/2.7 represents the approximate growth of the £8bn contributed under the Fossil Fuel Levy, estimated from the actual growth of the £2.7bn that Nuclear Electric didn't spend.

Setting up the NDA: a bonanza for Bechtel

In a March 2005 disclosure under the UK Freedom of Information Act, the DTI revealed the costs of setting up the NDA [18]:

  • 2002-03: £11.1m
  • 2003-04: £13.1m
  • 2004-05: £34.3m (projected)

It also revealed the amount of money paid to Bechtel for consultancy, project management, and training services whilst setting up the NDA: "DTI has spent an average of about £9m per year acquiring these services." [19]

Therefore, about 75% of the total 2002-2004 spend on setting up the NDA went to Bechtel.

Staff

Chairman and Non-Executive Directors

(source)

Executive team

Contact details

Pelham House,
Calderbridge, Cumbria CA20 1DB.
Tel: 01925 80 2077
Fax: 01925 80 2003
Email: foi AT nda.gov.uk
Website: http://www.nda.gov.uk/
(source)

Resources

References

  1. Bell Pottinger Communications "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief - Bell Pottinger response" (pdf), undated, released by NDA under Freedom of Information Act, February 2006.
  2. Bell Pottinger Communications "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief - Bell Pottinger response - Bell Pottinger team" (pdf), undated, released by NDA under Freedom of Information Act, February 2006.
  3. Bell Pottinger Communications "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief - Bell Pottinger response" (pdf), undated, released by NDA under Freedom of Information Act, February 2006.
  4. NDA "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief" (pdf), June 2005
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bell Pottinger Communications "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief - Bell Pottinger response" (pdf), undated, released by NDA under Freedom of Information Act, February 2006.
  6. Bell Pottinger Communications "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief - Bell Pottinger response - Bell Pottinger team" (pdf), undated, released by NDA under Freedom of Information Act, February 2006.
  7. NDA "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief" (pdf), June 2005
  8. Bell Pottinger "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Media Programme" (pdf), August 24, 2005.
  9. Bell Pottinger Contact Report, for NDA (pdf), July 20, 2002 (dated in error).
  10. Bell Pottinger Contact Report, for NDA (pdf), August 18, 2005.
  11. Bell Pottinger Contact Report, for NDA (pdf), January 13, 2006
  12. Bell Pottinger Public Affairs "An assessment of the perception of the Caithness region created by media and online sources" (pdf), January 2006.
  13. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, "Our People", accessed April 2008.

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