road to industrial meltdown
Financial Times, 30 Mar 2000
postponement of the partial sale of BNFL by the UK government is the
latest instalment in a run of bad news for BNFL this year.
Kansai Electric Power, Japan's second-largest power
company, bans BNFL from bidding for contracts to supply plutonium-uranium
mixed oxide fuel because of falsified quality control records.
BNFL's nuclear fuel manufacturing plant at Sellafield,
in west Cumbria, will remain closed for weeks while managers fight to
avoid the loss of vital quality assurance accreditation, the company
UK ministers were set to call for a management shake-up
at BNFL. The aim was to restore confidence in the company after Japan,
the company's biggest customer for Mox fuel and spent fuel reprocessing
contracts, banned BNFL imports.
The UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the industry
safety watchdog, accused BNFL of "systematic management failures" and
of lacking an adequate safety management system. The government gave
BNFL two months to suggest improvements to management and safety processes
at its Sellafield site or face the possibility of some operations being
The damning report by Britain's nuclear industry watchdog
on BNFL sparked renewed calls in Japan for a shipment of plutonium-based
nuclear fuel to be returned to the UK. Japan's Ministry of International
Trade and Industry and Kansai Electric Power Company have demanded that
Britain take back nuclear pellets that were allocated falsified quality
data by BNFL staff.
Germany threw into doubt the future of contracts with British
Nuclear Fuels in a move seen further endangering government plans to
partially privatise the company. Ten atomic power stations in Germany
are licensed to use Mox fuel.
It is reported British Nuclear Fuels, in an attempt to
rescue the timetable for part-privatisation, is to cull senior and middle
managers suspected of turning a blind eye to safety practices at the
Sellafield plant. The clear-out of senior and middle managers was set
to follow the departure of John Taylor, the former Exxon Chemicals executive
brought in four years ago to prepare BNFL for partial privatisation.
BNFL is understood to be furious with the government for mishandling
Mr Taylor's departure.
Norman Askew, the man recruited to rescue British Nuclear
Fuels from its worst ever crisis, pledged to take a more pro-active
approach to managing the company.Mr Askew was appointed chief executive
of BNFL following the departure of John Taylor.
Denmark threatens political action to force Britain to
halt radioactive discharges into the North sea from Sellafield plant.
The Danish Environment Ministry said it might put forward a legally-binding
commitment to end radioactive discharges at a meeting of north-east
Atlantic countries in Copenhagen in June.
BNFL was embroiled in a new controversy after it admitted
that it had suspended fuel deliveries to the country's biggest nuclear
generator. Deliveries to British Energy were halted after BNFL discovered
that a welding machine used to manufacture uranium fuel had "moved out
of normal tolerances".
UK government plans to sell a part of its stake in BNFL
received another setback when Germany joined Japan in banning shipments
of mixed-oxide fuel from the company. Jürgen Trittin, Germany's environment
minister, said safety doubts meant resumption of German nuclear waste
shipments to the company's Sellafield plant in Cumbria was also "completely
open to question".
The UK Ministry of Defence said it would decide in the
next few days whether safety concerns would prevent BNFL from having
a role in the management of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.
Privatisation plans were dealt another blow as Peter Hollins,
chief executive of British Energy, told MPs that the electricity generator
would not be using mixed-oxide fuel manufactured by BNFL in the forseeable
Bill Richardson, US energy secretary,orders immediate "top
to bottom" review of billions of dollars of work being performed by
BNFL for the US government.
Denmark calls for a halt to all nuclear fuel reprocessing
in northern Europe following international concerns over safety at Sellafield.
Details of a sabotage attack at Sellafield revealed.
Remote control cables connected to maintenance equipment were found
damaged at the end of the previous month.
The UK government appears to acknowledge that the future
of nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield was in doubt. Insiders said BNFL
would struggle to cover its costs on reprocessing if its difficulties
The US government adds to bad publicity surrounding BNFL
by putting part of a $1.2bn waste management contract with the company
The UK government puts the BNFL privatisation plan on hold
over safety fears.