small start, but a lot of credibility has been lost
Independent (London), 12 July 2000
By Michael Harrison, Business Editor
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
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.