February 2000

Germany voices doubts about UK nuclear contracts

Financial Times, 22 February 2000
By Ralph Atkins in Berlin and Matthew Jones in London

[Posted 24/02/2000]

Germany on Monday threw into doubt the future of contracts with British Nuclear Fuels in a move that will further endanger the UK government's plans to partially privatise the company.

The Berlin environment ministry appealed to the country's private sector power utilities to consider whether they wished - or were able - to continue to co-operate with a partner "that has proved itself to be unreliable."

On Friday BNFL was heavily criticised in three safety reports published by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the UK's safety regulator, for "systematic management failures" which allowed the falsification of quality control documents for batches of mixed oxide (Mox) fuel manufactured at its Sellafield plant.

A spokesman for Jürgen Trittin, the German Green party environment minister, said it had become apparent that the problems at Sellafield were not just a one-off but reflected a general neglect of stipulated tests and "inherent deficiencies in the organisation of BNFL".

Mr Trittin, who has been among the most aggressive in pushing for an end to atomic power in Germany, said the incident confirmed his determination to halt the "plutonium economy" as soon as possible and end the reprocessing of spent fuel rods.

"This is an unprecedented occurrence, the consequences of which cannot yet be estimated," it said. The comments followed confirmation by PreussenElektra, the north German electricity generator, that it had discovered shortfalls in BNFL documentation associated with four fuel rods at its atomic power station in Unterweser, Lower Saxony.

Ten atomic power stations in Germany are licensed to use Mox fuel, which has been developed as a way of disposing of plutonium produced by reprocessing spent fuel. Berlin has demanded from British authorities "the quickest and most comprehensive possible" update on the information they have on the "scandalous" incident.

The German environment ministry has also ordered an urgent investigation into precisely when PreussenElektra and the atomic supervisory authority in Lower Saxony knew about the document manipulation and possible security implications.

PreussenElektra insisted, however, that "the lack of documentation had no influence on the safe running of the power station". Berlin and Lower Saxony officials are expected to hold talks with the company today.

BNFL has already been banned indefinitely from selling Mox fuel in Japan and has been told by Kansai Electric Power Company, one of its main customers, that it cannot tender for other fuel supply contracts for four months.

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