BNFL Turns to French Rival to Save MOX Plant ; Green Lobby Vindicated as Nuclear Fuel Group Admits Reprocessing May Be Redundant, Write Jason Nisse and Geoffrey Lean
Nisse, Jason, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
BNFL has had to turn to its biggest competitor, the French group Cogema, for help to try to get its controversial pounds 500m MOX plant operating properly.
The plant, which reprocesses spent nuclear fuel into mixed oxide pellets that can be used in reactors, is years behind target and has lost the company hundreds of millions of pounds.
In contrast, Cogema, which is part of the French nuclear utility Areva, has built two successful MOX plants: Caderache, which is now in the process of being decommissioned; and Melox, which is running at close to full capacity.
The failure of BNFL's MOX plant has led it to turn to Cogema first to reprocess fuel sent to BNFL by clients and now to help it get its plant working properly.
At the company's Stakeholder Dialogue - a meeting with customers, civil servants and interested parties, held last week - BNFL director David Bonser admitted that the group had asked outside consultants to help it with problems at the MOX plant. "It pains me to tell you this, but one of these is Cogema," he said.
The irony will not be lost on anti-nuclear protesters, who were frustrated by BNFL's failure to provide details of its financial justification for the MOX plant when it was being proposed and built in the 1990s.
Three years ago, consultancy Arthur D Little was asked by the Government to report on whether the MOX plant should be abandoned. BNFL was so concerned about secrecy that the consultants were forced to study documentation on BNFL's own premises.
BNFL said it did not want to release commercially sensitive information that might aid rivals. However, the only real rival in the MOX business is Cogema.
A BNFL spokesman confirmed Cogema had been working with it. "We have used them for discrete technical work and they are subject to confidentiality agreements," the spokesman said.
But BNFL and Cogema will still complete for MOX contracts. Cogema was chosen by the United States for the so-called "MOX for peace" programme, under which 140kg of weapons grade plutonium was controversially transported by sea and road to the Caderache plant for reprocessing. …