Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

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Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of Spinwatch.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was set up in 2005 by the Government to oversee the enormous legacy of Britain’s nuclear waste.


In 2005, the government reorganised British Nuclear Fuels Ltd plc (BNFL). The decommissioning business was taken on by the newly established Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the remaining businesses were sold off to other departments such as the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). BNFL’s assets included the £2.3 billion Thorp plant, which processes used fuel, and the £490 million Sellafield Mox plant (SMP), built to recycle fuel.

The NDA is a non-departmental public body created in April 2005 under the Energy Act 2004 to oversee Britain's "nuclear legacy". Its core objective "is to ensure that the 20 civil public sector nuclear sites under its ownership are decommissioned and cleaned up safely, securely, cost effectively and in ways that protect the environment." [1]

The NDA's annual budget as of 2012/13 is £3 billion. Half of this is spent with the supply chain. [2]

A £70 billion clean-up 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.[3]

Criticism and controversies

Weakness in oversight

In November 2012, a report from the National Audit Office criticised the NDA's "weaknesses" in its oversight of multi-billion pound contracts to clean up Sellafield Ltd, the "UK’s largest and most hazardous nuclear site", parts of which "pose significant risks to people and the environment".[4]

Bad deal for taxpayers

In February 2013, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a damning report on the NDA. The committee's chair, Margaret Hodge, said:

"Taxpayers are not getting a good deal from the Authority’s arrangement with Nuclear Management Partners. Last year the consortium was rewarded with £54 million in fees, despite only two out of 14 major projects being on track. All payments to Nuclear Management Partners and, indeed to its constituent companies, need to be strictly controlled and determined by the value gained, so that payments are not made where companies have not delivered."[5]

The report criticised both the NDA and Sellafield Ltd's management. "Recent performance has not been satisfactory" it said, adding that both organisations "must act with real urgency and improve project management to tackle the risks on the site in good time." It was also critical of payments made by the NDA for 'reachback' - its term for staff being seconded from Nuclear Management Partners to Sellafield Ltd. It said:

The Authority has not been able to demonstrate what value it is getting for the payments made to Sellafield Limited. In 2011-12, the Authority paid out £54 million in fees, £17 million for ‘reachback’ staff and £11 million for executive staff seconded from Nuclear Management Partners. Sellafield Limited also awarded contracts to Nuclear Management Partners’ constituent companies worth some £54 million in 2011-12. That means, in effect, that those who let contracts awarded their own constituent companies contracts, which raises concerns about fair competition and value. The Authority should ensure all payments are linked to the value delivered and that payments are not made where companies have failed to deliver. It should also routinely provide assurance on the operation of its controls over payments for Nuclear Management Partners’ constituent companies.

The report revealed that 16 executives from NMP had been seconded to Sellafield at a cost of £11m in 2011-12 - an average of £690,000 per person. One director was paid just over £1.2m.[6]

The biggest nuclear slum in Europe?

After a tour of Sellafield, one MP from the Public Accounts Committee, Austin Mitchell, described the site as a "nuclear slum". He said: "It is something that seems to me like a cross between science fiction and a nuclear slum — perhaps the biggest nuclear slum in Europe".[6]

NDA secretly discussed going pro-nuclear

In 2008 the NDA secretly discussed making the controversial decision of actively promoting a new generation of nuclear power plants, even though the Agency is meant to be completely neutral. NuclearSpin obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act prepared for a meeting between NDA managers and its PR consultants, Bell Pottinger in October 2008.

Under its “position on key issues", the NDA sets out its policy on “new build” and asks: “how much longer is it sustainable to hold a neutral position? What is needed is clarity. What are the implications, legal and reputational and positioning wise of being pro new build”. The document then warns that this issue is of real concern “as the wrong answer to a question could trigger legal / Judicial Review possibilities from the antis.” [7]

The documents were prepared in preparation for a “High Level NDA Communications Strategy” that took place in December 2008, mapping out the NDA’s vision from Autumn 2008 until March 2010 as well as the organisation’s vision until 2020.

Realising their mistake in sending out the document, the NDA sent an agreed record of the NDA/ Bell Pottinger discussions, with the above text removed. [8]

Also removed was a draft of a “user friendly story of the NDA so far”. This included the sentence: “We recognised that while the nuclear industry has many strengths in terms of its technology and safety record, it also has weaknesses – namely, a tendency to be secretive and insular and, at times, of being guilty of intellectual arrogance.”


The Board

Previous board members included:


The revolving door

The NDA's senior executives have included 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. [22] [23]
  • 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 industry, including Director of Projects for Nuclear Electric, the organisation that procured, constructed and ran the UK's nuclear power plants. [24]
  • 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. [25]
  • 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.

PR and lobbying operations


To spin its case, the NDA brought in high profile PR experts who are used to fighting controversial schemes. In 2005 it hired Jon Phillips, the ex-head of communications for Heathrow Airport to be its head of communications. Phillips led BAA's successful campaign for a fifth terminal at Heathrow.[26]

The NDA also has a PR team based in Cumbria headed by Bill Hamilton ex-director at Grayling and ex-public affairs director at Safeway, and more recently group public affairs director for Transport for London.[27][28]

External lobbyists

In 2011 and 2012 Luther Pendragon was the declared public affairs firm handling the NDA's account.[29]

The NDA previously hired Bell Pottinger Communications to run its PR led by Chime Communications division chairman Kevin Murray. Also involved were Bell Pottinger Public Affairs director Tim Walker and Corporate & Financial director Mark Herbert. The account was said to be worth £100,000.[30]

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'. [31]

Bell Pottinger 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." [32] [33]

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". [34] [35]

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

Minutes of meetings between Bell Pottinger and the NDA revealed what the PR company did after 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 Pottinger recommended that they "should be off the record". [36] [37] [38]

Bell Pottinger was also 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, noted: "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." [39]

Another document suggests that the NDA was interested in how public perception of the safety of nuclear power could be changed. Bell 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'. [40]

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.'

Previous inquiries

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 investigated:

  • 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.[41]



Related articles

  • Jonathan Leake and Dan Box, "When PR goes nuclear", New Statesman, May 27, 2005.
  • Ravi Chandiramani (2005) Lib Dem Election Chief Nets Tfl Job, PR Week, 12 August, p1.
  • Ravi Chandiramani (2005) Nuclear Clean-Up Body Brings In Bell Pottinger, PR Week, 8 July, p2.

External resources


  1. NDA website
  2. *HC236 Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Annual Report & Accounts 2012/2013, Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 24 June 2013, ISBN: 9780102983104, p.11
  3. BBC website
  4. National Audit Office, Managing risk reduction at Sellafield, November 2012
  5. Public Accounts Committee, 'Public Accounts Committee publishes report on Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: managing risk at Sellafield', UK Parliament website, 4 February 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 Public Accounts Committee, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing risk at Sellafield, UK Parliament website, 4 February 2013
  7. NDA - For Discussion
  8. Agreed record of NDA Comms/Bell Pottinger discussion 18th September 2008 as an input to ongoing development of NDA Communications Strategy
  9. NDA, Stephen Henwood, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  10. NDA, Janette Brown, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  11. Business Week, Patrick Dixon, undated accessed 12 October 2012
  12. LinkedIn, Patrick Dixon, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  13. NDA, Murray Easton, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  14. NDA, Chris Fenton, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  15. NDA, Alistair Wivell, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  16. Debretts, Sir Anthony Cleaver, undated, accessed 15 October 2012
  17. Debretts, Tony Cooper, undated, accessed 15 October 2012
  18. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Annual Report & Accounts 2011/2012, accessed 16 July 2012
  19. Board Members: John Clarke, Britain’s Energy Coast Board, undated, accessed 20 May 2012
  20. NDA, Mark Lesinski, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  21. NDA, David Batters, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  22. BNES website
  23. The Environment Council website
  24. MTC website
  25. DTI website
  26. NDA, Jon Phillips, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  27. Spinwatch
  28. NDA, News, undated, accessed 12 October 2012
  29. UKPAC Register 1 Sept -30 November 2011 and APPC Register Entry for 1 Dec 2011 to 29 Feb 2012
  30. SpinWatch
  31. SpinWatch
  32. 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.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. NDA "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Public Affairs Agency Brief" (pdf), June, 2005.
  36. Bell Pottinger "Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Media Programme" (pdf), August 24, 2005.
  37. Bell Pottinger Contact Report, for NDA (pdf), 18 August, 2005.
  38. Bell Pottinger Contact Report, for NDA (pdf), 20 July, 2002. (dated in error)
  39. Bell Pottinger Contact Report, for NDA (pdf), 13 January, 2006.
  40. Bell Pottinger Public Affairs "An assessment of the perception of the Caithness region created by media and online sources" (pdf), January, 2006.
  41. UK Parliament website
  42. SMC, 2010. Annual Review. Acc 16 May 2011.
  43. Corinne McPartland, Power struggle: Roger Clayson, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), The Lawyer, 27 July 2009, acc 16 Sept 2013