Inspector tries to allay nuclear safety fear

9 Mar 00
The chief inspector of nuclear installations told MPs this week that concerns that a public-private partnership for the troubled British nuclear industry would reduce safety were unfounded.

10 March 2000

Laurence Williams, speaking to the House of Commons trade and industry select committee examining the government's proposed PPP, said the industry's safety operations were similar in public and private hands.

'In the nuclear sector, I can see no difference between the way private companies behave and the way the public sector operates,' he said.

The prospect of a privatised nuclear industry was raised last summer when Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers unveiled proposals for a 49% sell-off of British Nuclear Fuels. This could raise as much as £1.5bn.

But growing concern over recent management failures within BNFL could delay attempts at partial privatisation.

Last month, chief executive John Taylor resigned following critical reports centring on falsified data and safety standards at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. There is also a continuing row with Japan over acceptance of fuel from the site as well as calls from the Irish government for Sellafield to be closed down. And this week Germany suspended imports of reprocessed plutonium from Sellafield.

Further fears were outlined to the committee by Health and Safety Executive director general Jenny Bacon who said performance targets established by BNFL last July had not been met in all areas.

Archie Robertson, director of operations at the Environment Agency, added that he had written to BNFL's new chief executive, Norman Askew, asking for a meeting to discuss possibilities for improvements at Sellafield.


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