A cleaning bill of almost £68 billion (Dh393.03bn) is enough to rattle any government - and the prospect of that figure rising further is prompting major concern in Britain.
The United Kingdom's nuclear decommissioning authority is not showing enough urgency in completing the clean-up of radioactive waste at its Sellafield atomic facility in the north of England, a panel of policymakers said yesterday.
"It is unclear how long it will take," said Margaret Hodge, a politician from the opposition Labour Party who chairs the public accounts committee.
"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."
Ms Hodge's panel released a report yesterday in which it said it was "implausible" that the authority could not speed up construction of an underground storage facility at the site for nuclear waste, which is currently slated to take another 27 years. The total cost of decommissioning Sellafield has now reached £67.5bn.
"Successive governments have failed to get to grips with this critical problem," Ms Hodge said.
"A solution to the problem of long-term storage of the waste is as far away as ever."
Last week, a county council in northern England, where the plant is sited, voted against hosting an underground nuclear waste disposal facility, leaving the UK government searching for new sites.
Cumbria county council also agreed to seek new investment from the government to improve existing surface storage at Sellafield, the atomic fuel reprocessing site that is the biggest store of the UK's historical waste, it said.
The decision may hinder plans to build new nuclear plants in the UK by companies including Électricité de France, Hitachi, Iberdrola and GDF Suez.
David King, the former government's chief scientific adviser, has said the lack of a long term-disposal strategy may jeopardise plans to build new plants.
"I am confident that the programme to manage radioactive waste safely will ultimately be successful and that the decisions made in Cumbria … will not undermine prospects for new nuclear power stations," Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary said yesterday.
The UK has about 162,000 cubic metres of high, intermediate and low-level radioactive waste at 36 sites, according to the latest figures on the website of the nuclear decommissioning authority (NDA). All of the high-level waste, the most radioactive form, is at Sellafield, as is two-thirds of the intermediate waste, according to the data.
Future waste from the dismantling of existing nuclear facilities in the UK, which would also need to be stored, was estimated to total 4,550,000 cubic metres, according to the NDA.
The government is trying to pick a site for a nuclear repository on a voluntary basis that gets local agreement. It plans to have an underground storage facility by 2040.
It is "absolutely vital that we get to grips with our national nuclear legacy", Mr Davey said. "The issue has been kicked into the long-grass for far too long."
Cumbria, along with the borough councils of Copeland and Allerdale, which both lie in that county, were the only candidates expressing interest in hosting a potential disposal site.
"There is sufficient doubt around the suitability of west Cumbria's geology to put an end now to the uncertainty and worry this is causing for our communities," said Eddie Martin, the Cumbria county council leader.
"The government's efforts need to be focused on disposing of the waste underground in the safest place, not the easiest."
* with Bloomberg News