mission BNFL says sorry to Japan
Guardian, October 7, 1999
By Jane Martinson
of British Nuclear Fuels have flown to Japan to prevent safety fears
leading to delays to its business as it emerged last night that three
of the group's employees had been dismissed.
The Japanese government
is concerned about disclosures that records of safety checks for BNFL's
plutonium fuel, known as MOX, were falsified. Two shipments of the fuel
were delivered to two Japanese power companies days before the country
suf fered its worst nuclear accident last month. BNFL confirmed that
John Taylor, chief executive, and Chris Loughlin, a board member, were
holding top-level talks in Japan last night.
"The visit is to
apologise for this lapse in quality assurance procedures and to provide
reassurance to customers that BNFL is developing measures to prevent
a recurrence," said a spokesman.
The group said that
it had dismissed the Sellafield employees after allegations of data
falsification. The employees, who worked in quality control, were not
identified because they could still appeal against the decision. The
Japanese contracts are crucial to the future of BNFL, which has built
a £300m MOX fuel plant next to its Sellafield reprocessing facility.
Analysts have questioned
the government's plans to raise up to £1.5bn by selling 49% of the firm
before the next election. Sellafield, which reprocesses spent fuel from
Japanese reactors, is also Britain's biggest yen earner.
The company has
stated that Kansai, one of its two large Japanese customers, and the
Japanese ministry for nuclear energy had already stated that the delivered
MOX fuel was "within specification."
However, the Japanese
press reported that the government may ask Kansai and Tokyo Electric,
the second customer, to delay using the fuel until the first shipment
is proved safe. Kansai planned to use it as early as November and add
further reactors in March.
But the government
may delay licensing of more reactors. The Tokaimura accident has caused
public antagonism to nuclear fuel, which provides a third of the country's