REPROCESSING CONTRACTS SAFE: BNFL BOSS
Thursday, May 17, 2001
Lucrative contracts which underpin the future of Thorp and thousands of the longer-term jobs at Sellafield are safe, says BNFL's top boss Norman Askew.
The man brought into rescue the state-owned company after Sellafield's Mox fuel data falsification scandal yesterday dismissed fears that Thorp's major customers were ready to pull the plug on £6 billion worth of reprocessing orders.
In an exclusive interview with The Whitehaven News, BNFL's new chief executive said he wanted to be positive and declared: "The contracts are robust and safe - this is the bottom line."
All week shock waves have gone through the West Cumbrian community and the Sellafield workforce following the leaking of "secret" documents suggesting that the major overseas customers are on the verge of losing complete confidence in BNFL and were threatening to abandon existing contracts without which Thorp would have to close.
Norman Askew said that big new contracts won for Mox fuel in the last 10 days "gave the lie" to claims that Thorp would be ditched by every single one of its overseas customers.
"Some of these customers are one and the same, so to say they are losing complete confidence in us and threatening to pull out of their reprocessing contracts doesn't quite make sense," he declared.
"No contracts have been cancelled, they are robust and will remain in place. Significant new orders have recently been placed for Mox which spring from the baseload (first 10 year) contracts for Thorp reprocessing and shipments of fuel have resumed from Germany and Holland along with letters of support for new business," the chief executive pointed out.
Mr Askew admitted, however, that BNFL was guilty of under performance.
He went on: "Things have been put in place over the last 12 months to improve our performance and there's a lot still to be done. We just can't afford to be complacent. Basically, I am giving a reassuring message because we have started to regain customer confidence and win new orders but it is not reassuring enough to say 'don't worry'.
"While I believe the contracts are safe, we can't sit back and rely on that alone - it would be folly.
"We all knew from the shock of last year that things had to change and people in this company have been doing a terrific job tackling the problems. Many other businesses would not have come through what we have, but things are still fragile and we are only as good as last week's performance. We must continue to improve to fully regain the confidence of our customers."
Thorp was profitable and viable, insisted the chief executive, but he admitted there were no new orders imminent to fill the plant's spare capacity.
Asked whether he was worried about the present situation, Mr Askew said: "My job is to worry. Our performance must make people want to do business with us."
BNFL admit there are outstanding issues with customers but is optimistic these will be resolved in the next few weeks.