The cost of cleaning up the UK's nuclear legacy is expected to rise above the estimate of GBP70 billion, according to a report from MPs, and may increasingly have to be funded by the taxpayer.

The House of Commons trade and industry committee has published a report into nuclear decommissioning which raises concerns over the rising costs of the clean-up. The committee said that the public civil nuclear liability for waste has risen from GBP48 billion in 2002, to GBP56 billion in 2004, to GBP70.2 billion in 2006.

Therefore the overall quantified costs of GBP70.2 billion seem to us likely to rise significantly, both as further investigative work is done at the most difficult sites within Sellafield and Dounreay, and because the nuclear industry appears to be reluctant to continue with reprocessing of spent fuel while this remains more expensive than buying new stocks of uranium, the committee said in its report.

The report also cast doubts over the ability of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to fund the work. The authority currently pays for decommissioning by operating several of the UK’s aging nuclear reactors, including the Magnox, MOX and Thorp plants, but the report advised an analysis on whether these assets could generate enough income. The committee said that we remain to be convinced that the assets transferred to the NDA will in practice make a significant contribution to paying for nuclear decommissioning.

The committee also pointed out that public support and private sector investment in new nuclear power hinges on a clear statement from the government on how any new reactors will eventually be decommissioned, and who would foot the bill.

The committee also backed the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s research into fusion technology, which may eventually replace fission and provide virtually limitless power.

Although challenges remain to the scientists involved, we believe that the UK should be fully engaged with this leading edge research. Furthermore, we are disappointed that fusion research receives only one quarter of the EU funding spent on fission research and subsidies, the committee concluded.