road to industrial meltdown
Financial Times, April 27, 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
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.
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 future.
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 on hold.
The UK government puts the BNFL privatisation plan
on hold over safety fears.
British Energy, BNFL's its biggest single customer,
wants savings of up to £1bn ($1.6bn) on contracts to reprocess spent
UK Environment Agency officials met BNFL to outline
environmental concerns over the company's operations.
British Nuclear Fuels admitted breaching safety regulations
at its Sellafield reprocesing plant in a further blow to the company's
John Prescott, Britain's deputy prime minister, said
he had apologised to Yoshira Mori, Japan's new prime minister, over
the falsification of quality documents for a consignment of nuclear
fuel shipped to Japan last autumn.
BNFL confirmed the departure of more than half of
its board and pledged to improve safety at its Sellafield site as it
responded to two damning reports by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.
The shake-up follows the NII's allegations in February of "systematic
management failures" at Sellafield.
British Nuclear Fuels defended plans to change its
accounting policy - despite having already been criticised by MPs for
Bill Richardson, the US energy secretary, said he
would review BNFL's largest contract in the US, following unacceptable