THE NUCLEAR Decommissioning Authority will launch the first competition next April to kick-start its £56 billion programme of clean-up work.
Last week leaders of the authority launched their draft strategy, designed to deal with the legacy of the UK's 20 civil nuclear sites.
The decommissioning of the Drigg low-level waste repository in Cumbria will start the contracts bonanza with the launch in April of the £1.3 billion job to make it safe.
Workloads will speed up significantly after the Drigg job. The authority plans five more competitions covering 13 sites by the end of 2008.
The first contract award at Drigg is pencilled in for the end of 2006.
NDA chairman Sir Anthony Cleaver said: 'Our mission is 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.' Contractors chasing the work will be able to earn profit margins of up to 4.4 per cent under the contract system devised by the NDA.
An authority spokesman said: 'Our contractors will be paid all their legitimate costs and can earn profits for meeting set key performance targets.
'The total profit pool is 4.4 per cent of annual site funding, within which the more important or challenging targets are the most highly incentivised.' Leaders of the NDA are keen to make sure the bidding process is as transparent as possible. Respondents to Official Journal notices will be listed publicly on an internet site.
The authority has drawn up a strict list of prequalif ication criteria and is hoping to have bid lists of between three and six viable consortia for most of the major jobs.
Sir Anthony said: 'We will act openly and transparently and seek to generate public confidence in an industry that has historically been seen as secretive and opaque. We will protect only that information which is genuinely commercially or personally confidential or security sensitive.' One contracting source said: 'There is a massive amount of work here and the NDA will have to make sure it gets things right. The consultation on the plans runs until November so we have a chance to air our views but the major players have been talking to them already and they have taken on board a lot of the industry's thinking already.' Amec is expected to be among the major players chasing the work, alongside the Government-owned British Nuclear Group and foreign specialists such as Cogema and RWE.