British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL)

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British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) was an international company, owned by the UK government, involved in all stages of the nuclear process, from designing reactors and manufacturing fuel, to decommissioning reactors and dealing with radioactive waste. It is now in the process of being divided up and sold off.


It was originally set up by the government in 1971 as a spin-off from UKAEA, but since 2005, it has been a holding company for various constituent companies. On 1st April 2005 all BNFL's UK assets were transferred to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. To begin with the company was divided into British Nuclear Group, Nexia Solutions and Westinghouse. Since then the sell-off and re-organisation has continued and in December 2007 it described itself as the holding company for Sellafield Ltd (which includes the Capenhurst and Calder Hall sites), British Nuclear Group Project Services and Nexia Solutions. [1]

In 2005 BNFL's chairman predicted that BNFL was unlikely to exist within five years. [2]

In February 2006, BNFL sold its US nuclear clean-up division, BNG America, for £51m ($91m) to the Utah-based company Energy Solutions. [3]

The deal was quickly followed by BNFL's sale of its US power plant arm Westinghouse to the Japanese electronic giant Toshiba for the sum of £3.1bn ($5.4bn). Westinghouse controls Britain's only nuclear fuel manufacturing site, Springfield Fuels. [4]

The UK Government would have liked to be able to sell-off two other parts of BNFL – British Nuclear Group and BNFL's third share in the uranium enrichement company Urenco, leaving only the research wing – Nexia Solutions – in public hands. But nothing is ever simple when it comes to the nuclear industry. [5]

The government was forced to ditch plans to sell-off British Nuclear Group (BNG) as a whole in October 2006, and decided instead to break the business up and sell it off piecemeal. It was decided that BNG's Magnox division, and Project Services, BNG's specialist nuclear consulting business, as well as BNG's stake in the consortium which runs the Atomic Weapons Establishment's Aldermaston would all be sold off separately. The contract to manage the Sellafield nuclear facility is expected to be awarded around the middle of 2008. [6]

BNFL's one-third stake in Urenco, which enriches uranium, is worth at least £2bn. But the technology is heavily controlled (as it can also be used to make nuclear weapons). To prevent enrichment technology from falling into the wrong hands, all investors must agree any sale, and BNFL's German and Dutch partners in Urenco are blocking its attempt to offload its stake.

Battle of the Big Boys

The collapse of plans the sell British Nuclear Group as a whole appears to have been caused by a major row between BNFL and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and a battle to buy BNG between Bechtel and Fluor. It is understood that several senior people within BNG were keen to see the business sold to Fluor, while the NDA looked more favourably on Bechtel.[7] Both Fluor and Bechtel have employed political lobbying firms with close links to the Labour government. Fluor has used Sovereign Strategy and Bechtel employed LLM. Fluor took Jamie Reed MP, whose constituency includes Sellafield, on a £7,000 trip to see its operations in the US earlier this year. His predecessor as MP was Jack Cunningham, who was close to former Prime Minister, Tony Blair and "legislative chair" of the lobbying group Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum, which shares Sovereign Strategy's offices. [8]

Sell-off continues

BNFL announced in February 2007 that the sell-off of BNG Project Services would go-ahead. [9] The sale to VT Group was announced in December 2007. [10]

In June 2007 BNFL agreed to sell its Reactor Sites Management Company, which wholly owns Magnox Electric to Energy Solutions. [11]

Then in July 2007, BNFL announced that it had commenced the sale of its one third share in AWE Management Ltd. [12]

Sellafield Ltd

Sellafield Ltd has emerged from the re-organisation of BNFL as the company responsible for the delivery of contracts at the Sellafield and Capenhurst sites in England on behalf of site owners, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Sellafield Ltd is called a Site Licence Company.

The NDA announced in March 2007 that six organisations had pre-qualified as bidders for the Sellafield Parent Body Organisation (PBO) role. The six organisations will compete to run operations at a strategic management level while Sellafield Ltd will retain operational responsibility, and the skills and experience of the existing workforce.

Alphabetically the bidders were:

CH2M HILL; Energy Solutions; Fluor in partnership with Toshiba; Jacobs; SBB Nuclear, which consists of Serco, Bechtel and BWXT; and Washington Group International with AMEC and AREVA NC. [13]

The PBO will own the shares in the Site Licence Company, to be known as Sellafield Ltd, for the duration of the contract. This will be for an initial period of five years with capability for periodic extension up to 17 years in total, subject to performance.

Energy Solutions and Jacobs subsequently withdrew from the competition. [14]

Nexia Solutions

The research and consultancy arm, Nexia Solutions, may eventually be the only part of BNFL to remain in the public sector. It will form the basis for a new national nuclear laboratory (NNL). [15] The new Laboratory is to be formed out of the British Technology Centre at Sellafield in Cumbria and Nexia Solutions. NNL aims to secure a skills base for the country’s civil nuclear industry. [16]

Some Trade Unions have expressed concern that the break up of British Nuclear Group (BNG) could have serious implications for safety. [17] There are also concerns that the break up will lead to an exodus of staff. Already Chief Executive Lawrie Haynes is leaving with a financial package worth well over £1 million pounds. [18]

Spinning the nuclear message

Closing down debate

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that BNFL "wants to restrict the scope of local planning inquiries", according to The Guardian newspaper. Issues such as safety, security and environmental impact would not be discussed at public inquiries, as happens now, but behind closed doors.

The documents show that BNFL believes the only way to guarantee that new power stations open on schedule is to fast-track the planning process by pre-licensing reactors before sites are selected. "Investment in this phase has immense leverage over subsequent phases" say the documents. "For example, it should enable a public inquiry to be assured that all safety and environmental issues have been satisfactorily addressed, enabling it to focus on local issues." [19]

PR and lobbying firms

In the late nineties and up until 2002, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs was the main PR company providing strategic corporate communications advice. Bernard Ingham, Director of SONE, also provided advice during the 1990s. [20]

BNFL was working hard to reposition nuclear power as a green fuel (see below). BNFL Chairman Gordon Campbell said in July 2005: 'Old prejudices about the cost of nuclear power, the handling of waste, and safety concerns need to be reviewed objectively and set against the world's desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions'. [21]

  • Weber Shandwick provided 'consultancy services' for BNFL during 2004/ 2005. Philip Dewhurst, who was Director of Group Corporate Affairs at BNFL from April 2001 until December 2006 used to be Weber Shandwick Worldwide's UK chief executive. [22]

Other PR companies:

The Nuclear MP

Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland - a constituency that includes Sellafield - was BNFL's press officer for four years. His predecessor as MP for Copeland, Jack Cunningham, was an outspoken supporter of BNFL and nuclear power.

It's Safe, Secure, Cheap and Climate Friendly

Weber Shandwick worked on a "Nuclear New Build strategy for BNFL . Part of the strategy has been to sell nuclear as clean, cheap and secure. For example, in December 2004, Weber wrote a document “The Case for Nuclear Energy”, which re-iterated the major themes that the nuclear industry is using to push for a revival – climate change and energy security. Nuclear's main selling points are:

  • Nuclear energy can be competitive with gas, and may in the future be the cheapest form of electricity;
  • Nuclear power is essential in combating CO2 emissions;
  • Nuclear power offers substantial security of supply benefits;
  • Nuclear plants can be built to time and cost;
  • Nuclear waste issues should not be a barrier to building new stations;
  • The track record of safety and security in the nuclear industry is excellent;
  • The nuclear industry plays a key role in the UK economy;
  • The need for Government action to keep the nuclear option open is increasingly urgent;
  • Action needed now by Government. [23]

Spinning Chernobyl

In April 2006, an FOI request shows that someone from corporate affairs at BNFL wrote to Stuart Cloke at the World Nuclear Association: "With the Chernobyl anniversary coming up and the increasing media focus on health effects/impacts of the accident is WNA planning any proactive briefing before the anticipated publication of anti-nuclear reports take hold? Or making any information available on the website? Or do you know if e.g. IAEA have any plans to do anything proactive? It would be very helpful to know what the industry/ others might be doing in this regard”.

To this Cloke replied: “I’ll certainly try to help. I have just spoken with Ian Hore-Lacey who indicated that: Foratom is active, with WNA support. The WNA information paper has just been updated, and this is available on the website”. [24]


In breach of EU standards

In February 2006, the European Commission formally issued a warning against what it termed "British Nuclear Group Sellafield (BNG SL)". According to the Commission: "Under the Euratom Treaty, the European Commission has the task of ensuring that accounting and administrative procedures are in place to ensure that nuclear materials in possession of companies operating nuclear facilities in the EU are not diverted from the peaceful uses for which they have been declared.

The Commission has found that the accounting and reporting procedures presently in place at BNG SL do not fully meet Euratom standards. This decision results from a series of inspections carried out by Commission inspectors at the Sellafield plant". [25]

BNFL guilty of falsifying data

In 2000, UK regulatory body, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate revealed that BNFL had been falsifying data about shipments of plutonium MOX fuels to clients in Japan and Switzerland since 1996. The NII stated: “There is no doubt that data falsification took place and MOX fuel assemblies have been produced and in some cases delivered to the customer with Quality Assurance documentation which included falsified data.” [26]

The investigation concluded: “The events which have been revealed in the course of this investigation could not have occurred had there been a proper safety culture within this plant. There can be no excuse for process workers not following procedures and deliberately falsifying records to avoid doing a tedious task. However, the management on the plant allowed this to happen, and since it had been going on for over three years, must share responsibility.” [27]

The findings of the investigation were greeted with fury in Japan and, after two years of wrangling, BNFL was forced to ship the fuel back to the UK. The controversial shipment was carried by British Nuclear Group subsidiary Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited. [28] [29]

Who runs BNFL?

BNFL's website contains profiles of BNFL's executives: [30]

  • Gordon Campbell, Chairman - also part-time Chairman of defence firm Babcock International Group and a former Chief Executive of Courtaulds. He is also Vice-President of the pro-nuclear Royal Academy of Engineering and a visiting professor at Strathclyde University.
  • Michael Parker, Chief Executive (since 2003) - Was President and Chief Executive of controversial chemical company Dow.
  • David Bonser, BNFL Human Resources Director - joined BNFL in 1971. He was a member of the Government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee and was Chairman of UK Nirex until December 2001.
  • John Edwards, Group Finance Director - the former finance director of Jaguar, Northern Electric and Meyer International plc, he is now Chairman of Magnox Electric plc.
  • Joe Darby, non-executive director - Darby is a non-executive director of John Mowlem & Company plc, the UK construction services company, which has interests in the nuclear industry. Formerly deputy chairman of oil firm LASMO plc.
  • Bill Lowther CBE, non-executive director - former director general of UCB Films plc.
  • Michael Pavia, non-executive director - former Chief Financial Officer of EDF Energy plc, Finance Director of SEEBOARD plc and Finance Director of oil firm LASMO.

Corporate memberships

Contact information

1100 Daresbury Park
Warrington, WA4 4GB
Tel: +44 1925 832000

Resources and articles

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. BNFL website, accessed December 2007
  2. Christopher Hope BNFL Five Years From Extinction, says Chief, Daily Telegraph, December 6, 2005,
  3. BNFL Announces Sale of BNG America, BNFL Press Release, February 2, 2006.
  4. BNFL, Toshiba Agree Sale of Westinghouse, BNFL Press Release, February 6, 2006.
  5. Abigail Townsend and Tim Webb, The Great Sell-Off Stakes … and the handicaps hindering the state sale of the Tote and our nukes, Independent on Sunday, August 27, 2006.
  6. Michael Harrison, BNFL to Fast Track sale of Magnox Nuclear Reactors, Independent, October 3, 2006.
  7. Katherine Griffiths Anger as Nuclear Sell-off is Shelved, Daily Telegraph, August 23, 2006.
  8. Katherine Griffiths, American behemoth offers £400m for Sellafield clean-up company Daily Telegraph August 31, 2006.
  9. BNFL announces sale of nuclear decommissioning specialist Project Services BNFL Press Release, February 6, 2007.
  10. BNFL Agrees Sale of its Project Services Business BNFL Press Release, December 18, 2007.
  11. BNFL agree to sell Reactor Sites Business to Energy Solutions, BNFL Press Release, June 7, 2007.
  12. BNFL commences sale of its one-third share of AWE Management Ltd, BNFL Press Release, July 16, 2007.
  13. NDA Announces Sellafield Bidders, NDA Press Release, March 26, 2007.
  14. Sellafield PBO Competition, NDA Press Release, April 10, 2007.
  15. Katherine Griffiths, Nuclear group for sale in pieces, Daily Telegraph, October 25, 2006.
  16. UK plans new nuclear research group, Nuclear Engineering International, October 31, 2006.
  17. TUC Risks Newsletter No. 277 October 7, 2006.
  18. Katherine Griffiths, Nuclear boss walks away with £1m, Daily Telegraph, November 13, 2006.
  19. David Adam, Next generation of nuclear reactors may be fast tracked, The Guardian, January 21, 2006
  20. Tom Wilkie, "Labour angered over Ingham consultancy", The Independent, unavailable online, December 30, 1991.
  21. BNFL Announces Annual Results for 2005, PR newswire, 1 July, 2005.
  22. Chris Grimshaw, It's official: no dark Machiavellian conspiracy for new nuclear power, Corporate Watch newsletter, issue 21, December 2004.
  23. The Case for Nuclear, Email Sent from Weber Shandwick to BNFL, December 15, 2004.
  24. Email from BNFL to WNA, April 2006, Email from WNA to BNFL, April 6, 2006.
  25. European Commission issues nuclear safeguard obligations warning to British Nuclear Group Sellafield, European Commission Press Release, February 15, 2006.
  26. An Investigation into the Falsification of Pellet Diameter Data in the MOX Demonstration Facility at the BNFL Sellafield Site and the Effect of this on the Safety of MOX Fuel in Use, Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, 18 February 2000.
  27. An Investigation into the Falsification of Pellet Diameter Data in the MOX Demonstration Facility at the BNFL Sellafield Site and the Effect of this on the Safety of MOX Fuel in Use, Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, 18 February 2000.
  28. Japan vents fury on BNFL, BBC news, 18 February, 2000.
  29. UK nuclear shipment leaves Japan, BBC news, 4 July, 2002.
  30. BNFL website, accessed December 2007.
  31. Foratom website, accessed December 2007.
  32. Institute of Physics website, accessed December 2007.
  33. Nuclear Industry Association website, accessed December 2007.

External links