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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
AEA quits nuclear facility
sellafield
Sellafield may carry out some of the work
AEA Technology, the last business to be privatised under the Conservatives, is to cease operating a nuclear testing facility in Oxfordshire.

Under pressure from City investors, the company had already declared its intention to hive off all its nuclear operations.

The staff trade union, the IPMS, says 90 jobs are at risk at the company's Harwell base. Overall, 130 staff are affected.

However, a management spokesman said there would be no compulsory redundancies and most employees would be offered jobs in other areas.

The 1996 privatisation was branded as "absolutely disgraceful" by Jane Griffiths, a member of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Nuclear technician
AEA Technology is moving out of nuclear work
She was responding to a report by the committee in 1998, saying more than 160m of taxpayers' money was lost by civil servants who bungled the privatisation.

Shares were valued at 280p on flotation, but more than tripled in value. They have now fallen below the launch price and the management has had to issue profit warnings to the City.

It is doing well in non-nuclear areas - especially since taking over the former British Rail research centre at Derby, according to John Billard of the IPMS trade union.

He said: "That has turned out to be the money-spinner that has kept the company going.

Rail safety

"You can make money in rail safety now without trying.

"It is also strong on its environmental business - air sampling, alternative energy issues and so on."

Mr Billard said that cutting all involvement in nuclear activities showed privatisation had not worked. "The company has clearly not been a success."

The "B220 shielded facility" at Harwell runs safety checks on nuclear fuels and materials after they have been irradiated.

It is also used to provide waste management services, and to make radioactive products for medical and industrial clients.

'Cost pressure'

A company statement said: "The facility has been facing difficulties because of static market conditions, increasing competition, over capacity and significant cost pressure from customers.

"Greater regulatory requirements are also leading to greater costs.

"The 130 staff who work in B220 are extremely professional and we hope to transfer them to other parts of AEA Technology.

"Voluntary redundancy terms may be available to some."

Closure will take three years, including decommissioning time.

Some testing work will transfer to Sellafield, in Cumbria, or to plants outside the UK.

With new science-based enterprise coming in to the area, the local economy is unlikely to be harmed.

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05 Aug 98 | UK Politics
Privatisation cost taxpayer 160m
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