Thursday, May 9, 2002

BNFL will be on the brink of clinching brand new vital business for Sellafield once a batch of rogue Mox fuel has been returned safely into West Cumbria from Japan.

"We have got the European business lined up. The rest of it basically has to come from Japan. It is absolutely critical to us," BNFL's chief executive, Norman Askew, told West Cumbrian community leaders and trades union officials.

Mr Askew took over BNFL's hot seat when predecessor John Taylor "fell on his sword" by resigning after the Sellafield Mox fuel fiasco soured the company's reputation world wide.

Four process workers were sacked for falsifying the data specifications for Mox fuel pellets which were then sent to customers in Japan.

"That fuel will soon be on its way back and once that's done we will then be in a position to start talking business with the Japanese. Returning the fuel here is the key. I think the Japanese are impressed that we are moving it two years earlier than we first said."

Members of Sellafield's community "Sort Out" Sellafield campaign - headed by MP Jack Cunningham - were brought back up to date by BNFL's chief only a few days after his return from Japan.

Speaking at Ingwell Hall, Norman Askew said: "Relationships have been, and are being, mended. The fact we are winning business in Europe coupled with our relationships with the Japanese means I think that we will be ready to win business once we get this fuel back. We will be on to a new phase."

He agreed that the return of the falsified fuel pellets would make it a case of "honour satisfied" with Japan and the nuclear customers.

But he said his company owned a debt of gratitude to West Cumbria.

"There are people who would like to close the nuclear industry down, not just Sellafield, but what surprises them is how much local support we have. That's the real benefit to us. We are dependent on the support of the local communities and it is very important we talk to them, listen to them and keep them in the picture."

Copeland's MP Jack Cunningham said: "BNFL is now on the front foot and relationships with the Japanese government and customers are very much on the mend.

"That is good news for us in West Cumbria because the Japanese utilities are such important customers. I think we can look forward to more business and contracts from the Japanese nuclear industry.

"I think it is a case of honour satisfied. The Japanese felt affronted about what happened with the Mox data and that affront had to be assuaged. They had to be shown quite clearly that the quality control systems at Sellafield were beyond reproach and that has now been successfully achieved.

"I think Sellafield has a good future. There are still matters to be resolved there but I am looking forward to a growth in the business at Sellafield exactly because the problems with Japan are now settled," he added