May 2002

BNFL in Mox deal with E.ON; Contract upsets protesters

The Guardian, May 25, 2002
By David Gow, industrial editor

[Posted 27/05/2002]

British Nuclear Fuels said yesterday it had signed its largest single contract for its controversial £472m Mox plant in Sellafield with German utility E.ON yesterday.

BNFL claimed that the E.ON deal would fill 15% of the plant's capacity and, coupled with earlier contracts with Swiss and Swedish nuclear plant operators, guaranteed it a viable 40% capacity utilisation over the coming years.

But anti-nuclear campaigners at Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth insisted that the latest deal still left the plant - which produces fuel from spent plutonium mixed with uranium - far short of economic viability.

They accused BNFL of excessive secrecy over details of the contracts and warned of hefty protests against any Mox shipments to Germany.

E.ON, which is buying UK energy group Powergen, has shares in 12 of Germany's 19 nuclear power plants, including Brokdorf and Isar, scenes of violent protests. German utilities, according to Greenpeace, account for 13.6 tonnes or 30% of the 44.6 tonnes of plutonium waste stored at Sellafield for recycling into Mox.

Peter Roach, nuclear campaigner at the pressure group, said E.ON accounted for 13% of the total, or around 5.8 tonnes. "We know from vari ous sources that BNFL has given E.ON bargain-basement prices, partly to overcome its reluctance to buy Mox."

BNFL refused to give details of the deal on grounds of commercial confidentiality but said E.ON had committed to turning all of its separated plutonium at Sellafield into Mox.

Norman Askew, chief executive, said: "This new contract...confirms that there is a strong customer demand for Mox fuel from the plant. I am delighted that we have signed such an important contract with E.ON who are one of our largest customers."

Roger Higman, nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said BNFL had yet to sign any contracts with Japanese operators which were essential for the Mox plant's viability.

"BNFL are being highly secretive about whether the Mox plant is anywhere near capacity. Taxpayers deserve to see detailed figures showing whether this plant will be profitable or not," he said. "The government wrote off the construction costs and taxpayers want to know whether this investment is paying its way or the plant is being kept going with huge subsidies."

· The Finnish parliament yesterday voted in principle to build the country's fifth nuclear power plant of up to 1600MW - and at a cost of up to 2.5bn (£1.5bn).

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