Bosses at Sellafield have pocketed more than £6m in bonuses over the last three years, despite a series of failings.
Executives at consortium Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) seconded to Sellafield Ltd to decommission a nuclear plant have received bonuses ranging from £2m to £2.5m since 2009, paid for using funds from the tax-payer-funded Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the public non-departmental body which agreed the terms of the contract under which Sellafield Ltd operates.
Energy Minister Michael Fallon revealed that a total of £6.6m was paid out in bonuses, despite the fact a report by the National Audit Office found that costs had spiralled from £47bn, when it first started work on the site in 2009, to £67bn by 2012 after key deadlines were missed.
And in June, the company was fined £700,000 and ordered to pay more than £72,000 costs for sending bags of radioactive waste to a landfill site in Cumbria.
The bonuses were disclosed in answer to a parliamentary question from Margaret Ritchie, former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
The South Down MP, who is also the SDLP's shadow spokewoman on energy, said: "The government and the NDA have serious questions to answer about this. It is unacceptable for this amount of public money to be paid in bonuses to a private consortium whose management of the decommissioning process at Sellafield has been so appalling.
"This is a consortium who in 2010/11 failed to meet targets in 12 of 14 major projects, yet in the same year senior executives received over £2m in bonuses."
A contract was awarded to NMP to run the Cumbrian site for up to a maximum of 17 years starting in 2009 – including a break clause after the first five years – in the belief that the private sector would be able to manage the site more efficiently.
Ritchie said that there were often hidden costs associated with nuclear energy.
"This reveals the true cost of nuclear power, a cost that goes on for long after plants have stopped producing energy and that the current government is seeking to commit to for another generation," she said.
In the financial year 2009/10, NMP executives received £1,999,192; in 2010/11 the figure was £2,451,269 and in 2011/12 the executive bonus pot totalled £2,148,035.
Fallon wrote: "Any bonuses NMP pays to its own employees is a matter for them. However, the cost of Sellafield Ltd employees (including the salaries and bonuses of executives seconded by the parent company) is funded by the taxpayer."
In a separate parliamentary answer, he added: "Sellafield represents a unique and complex challenge and progress has been mixed."
The NDA is currently reviewing the performance of NMP and a decision on whether or not to extend the contract into its second term or make use of the break clause will be decided in due course.