Whitehaven News

MOLE MAY SCUPPER NEW MOX LICENCE BID

Saturday, January 13, 2001

A SELLAFIELD "mole" is alleging that the Mox Plant is poorly designed and equipped, as well as having only two orders up to Christmas.

Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) has received written claims from an anonymous Sellafield employee that the plant is not ready to go - various parts of it were having to be re-built; there were roof leaks and the computer system was already becoming obsolete.

The CORE source also alleges that the plant has just two Mox fuel orders, yielding an estimated two years' work, and one of them is a legacy from MDF, the fuel demonstration facility which was unable to complete the work after being closed down following the faked fuel data scandal.

BNFL said yesterday it had more than two orders and rebuffed the poor design claim. But the company admitted: "We have had to make changes to parts of the plant but this is what commissioning and proving the process is about. We have to make sure it is as right as possible, before introducing radioactive materials."

Roof repairs were carried out and the computer system was being upgraded where necessary.

In the letter to CORE, its author said: "During the recent visit by the Japanese they were steered around the various areas of plant which suffer from roof leaks."

n With thousands of longer-term jobs hanging on the outcome, British Nuclear Fuels has come up with a new business plan to try and get the government to licence Sellafield's long-delayed 300 million MOX fuel plant.

And because of likely new orders the company's new chief executive, Norman Askew, has dropped the threat he made a few months ago to abandon Mox by February, if it failed to win more business from Japan.

Yesterday BNFL said that it had "customer commitment" to justify operation of the plutonium-recycling plant which underpins Thorp and thousands of jobs.

Sellafield spokesman Ali Dunlop said: "What Mr Askew wanted was a clear indication from customers of support for SMP (Mox). We now believe we have that commitment and have made a revised economic case to the government which justifies operation of the plant."

The company declined to say if the commitment meant concrete new orders, saying this was "commercially in confidence."

BNFL's "robust" economic case reached the government last Friday but even if deputy prime minister, John Prescott, through the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, accepts that the plant now has viable orders, a decision could still be put off until after the general election, expected in May.

Copeland MP Jack Cunningham and Mike Graham, the Tories' prospective parliamentary candidate, are both strongly opposed to more delays which have already caused 20 million losses.

The future of the plant reached crisis point in the wake of the Mox fuel data falsifications which took place in a demonstration facility and damaged BNFL's reputation world wide.

"This is a very important decision which has to be taken as soon as possible," said Dr Cunningham. "What happened in MDF was a terrible series of events but it is totally unconnected with the new production plant and in any case there is talk of the demonstration facility doing other work.

"No way should we put off a decision because of a General Election - the plant stands and falls on its own merits. The biggest question mark is when and how more business is going to be secured, predominately from Japan."

Mr Graham asked: "How can the Japanese have confidence in a plant and an industry when our Government seemingly does not? BNFL has robustly answered the criticisms, so the Government should now licence Mox sending out a clear signal to the Japanese that all is well at Sellafield."

CORE spokesman, Martin Forwood, said: "There is no commercial reason why it should be given the go-ahead before the general election - or ever. We have not heard of any new contracts being signed."

Approval for Mox would enable it to introduce plutonium - the point of no return

BNFL said: "We have carried out a review of SMP's (Mox) economics; it is robust and we feel justifies the case for the plant to be licensed."