October 1999

Nuclear mission BNFL says sorry to Japan

Guardian, October 7, 1999
By Jane Martinson

[Posted 07/10/1999]

Senior executives 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 energy.

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