BNFL forced to go to France for MOX fuel
The Independent, 3 August 2003
By Jason Nissé
Original address: http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/story.jsp?story=430124
BNFL has quietly been obtaining Mixed Oxide (MOX)
fuel from one of its main competitors so that it can fulfil an order
for the controversial nuclear by-product.
The state-owned nuclear group has admitted that
it has been forced to subcontract the supply of MOX fuel for a German
customer, believed to be the giant utility E.On, because of delays in
getting its controversial £473m MOX plant into production. In
effect, it has been buying fuel from Cogema, the French nuclear group
which is its main rival, to ship to Germany.
A spokesperson for BNFL said: "The Sellafield
MOX plant has been delayed by the legislative process and by engineering
modifications, so we have not been able to meet all our short-term commitments
for MOX fuel."
BNFL would not confirm how much this subcontracting
will cost it, but environmental groups have estimated it could be as
much as £20m.
This is the second time BNFL has failed to make
a shipment of MOX. It had to ask Cogema to step into the breach last
year to cover an order for Nordostschweizerische Kraftwerke (NOK), the
The next key shipment for BNFL is also NOK, which
needs the MOX fuel before June next year. If BNFL has to ask Cogema
to cover that contract, it will destroy the credibility of its MOX plant.
The facility was developed in the late 1990s to
turn spent nuclear fuel into a new product that can be used for reactors
which are about to be closed down.
The development of the plant was always controversial
and the project was only completed after a report was commissioned into
the plant's viability from consultants Arthur D Little.
The study concluded that given the sunk costs up
until then, it was better to carry on with the project rather than scrap
The problems at the MOX plant coincide with the
crisis brewing at the £1.8bn Thorp reprocessing plant, which is
next door in the Sellafield complex. Difficulties dealing with waste
from Thorp have forced BNFL to renegotiate reprocessing contracts with
customers, many of whom are the same utilities that are supposed to
be buying MOX fuel from BNFL.
The Government recently announced it was scrapping
plans to part privatise the troubled nuclear group.
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