May 2002

BNFL spent $1m lobbying in US

The Observer, May 19, 2002
By Antony Barnett and Solomon Hughes

[Posted 23/05/2002]

The state-owned nuclear firm BNFL has spent more than $1 million (£650,000) of British taxpayers' money making donations to George Bush's Republican Party and hiring White House lobbyists to push its controversial nuclear agenda in the United States.
Labour backbenchers have described the revelations as a 'scandalous waste of public money', with one describing it as tantamount to 'state-sponsored bribery'. Environmental groups have also attacked the payments as a 'cash for access' scandal.

At the end of February the Bush administration gave its backing to BNFL allowing it to ship an unwanted cargo of plutonium fuel from Japan to Britain. The nuclear fuel on board could make large numbers of atomic weapons and opponents argued that following 11 September the shipment would be a target for terrorists and should be blocked.

BNFL - wholly owned by the British government - is lobbying the Bush administration for approval to construct new nuclear reactors in the US, which it also wants to build in Britain.

Labour MP David Chaytor called the political payments 'outrageous' and will be tabling questions in the Commons this week.

He said: 'The fact that a company owned by the British government - and all but bankrupt - is making massive political payments in the US is a scandalous waste of public money. The fact that the timing of this spending relates to key policy decisions raises disturbing questions.'

An analysis of the company's donations since it bought US nuclear firm Westinghouse in 1999 reveal BNFL has made $300,000 in political donations, with the majority going to Bush's Republicans, although the firm has also given significant sums to the Democrats.

Records seen by The Observer also disclose that BNFL paid $950,000 to Washington lobbying firms between 1998 and 2000. The money was paid to a host of congressional lobbyists to persuade US lawmakers to work to BNFL's agenda on issues from 'transporting radioactive materials' to 'uranium procurement'.

In return for its payments, BNFL officials had meetings with officials in the Bush administration, and won backing from the American government for the firm's controversial activities.

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