July 2000

A small start, but a lot of credibility has been lost

Independent (London), 12 July 2000
By Michael Harrison, Business Editor

[Posted 17/07/2000]

Norman Askew, chief executive of BNFL, described the agreement to take back the Mox fuel in Japan as the start of a process to rebuild customer confidence and give the Sellafield plant a commercial future. But he and everyone else in BNFL knows it is only a small start, that the process will be long and that its outcome remains uncertain.

Without Mox production, Sellafield has no source of future income and no reason to stay in business, since the only purpose in reprocessing fuel is to turn it back into something which can be burnt again in nuclear reactors.

BNFL has letters of intent for Mox business from customers in Japan, Germany and Switzerland. But first it has to get permission to resume production, then persuade the world it makes sense to burn the recycled mixture of uranium and plutonium when uranium can be mined for a fraction of the price.

Mr Askew estimates the Japanese market could be worth 4bn but BNFL has to get consent of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to reopen its Mox demonstrator plant at Sellafield, where the safety records were falsified. Then BNFL faces getting approval to open the 400m commercial Mox plant, which has sat idle for a year. That decision will rest with the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. BNFL hopes to persuade him that unless the plant is given the go-ahead, Britain will lose business to its French rival, Cogema.

But BNFL has lost a huge amount of credibility in Japan and in Germany the government has announced the phasing out of nuclear power.

British Energy, Sellafield's biggest customer, wants to withdraw from all its contracts with BNFL, worth 4bn, on grounds that reprocessing is "economic nonsense" and revert to storage of nuclear waste. For that reason it has no interest in Mox fuel.

Back to contents