Thursday, March 14, 2002

The Sellafield plant, in which Mox fuel pellets were were given faked specifications, has finally been allowed to re-start.

Four BNFL process workers were sacked for gross misconduct and the company's chief executive John Taylor was forced to resign after it was discovered that pellets had been sent from Sellafield to Japan, with falsified data.

For BNFL it led to an international scandal with loss of confidence among its nuclear customers world-wide and a refusal by Japan to put any new orders BNFL's way.

Batches of pellets, a mixture of plutonium and uranium to go in modern energy-making nuclear reactors, were falsified in MDF - the Mox demonstration facility which was allowed to manufacture the material so BNFL could prove the process for a fullscale production plant. MDF had to shut down and workers were re-trained.

Now, hard on the heels of the 370 million fullscale plant (SMP) getting the green light after years of delay the pilot facility has been granted its licence to go back into operation.

BNFL says the demonstration facility will carry out support trials for the production plant and play an important role in its future operation.

Since the introduction of plutonium - a point of no return - SMP is making a gradual build up to the manufacture of its first Mox fuel to meet customer orders.

The first contract to be met was with a European customer but Sellafield spokeswoman Ali Dunlop said details were confidential.

Asked whether any new orders had been won from Japan (BNFL's biggest overseas customer) she said: "We have a commitment from Japanese customers to supply them with mixed oxide fuel."

n Only last week BNFL was finally given an international all-clear to have the rogue pellets, which were shipped to Japan, returned to Sellafield.

"Returning this fuel will bring to an end a chapter in BNFL's operations from which many lessons have been learned," said company chief executive, Norman Askew.