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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 12:06 GMT
Man behind BNFL's global ambitions

BNFL bosses in Japan
BNFL bosses apologised to Japanese customers

The problems at British Nuclear Fuels appear to have claimed their first high-profile casualty with the reported departure of chief executive John Taylor.

Sellafield in Crisis
John Taylor: high-profile casualty
BNFL's troubled history
Can nuclear power ever be safe?
What is nuclear reprocessing?
His resignation follows a highly critical report by the safety watchdog into practices at the company's Sellafield reprocessing plant.

It was found that safety records had been falsified, with "systematic management failures" being blamed.

The scandal has badly damaged BNFL's reputation and been a huge blow to Mr Taylor's vision of turning the company into a major global player.

He was relatively unknown when he took over in 1996.

But the size of his salary - in his first year he was the highest paid chief executive in the public sector on 372,000 - reflected the importance of his position.

BNFL ex-chief executive John Taylor John Taylor: Saw BNFL as a world player
He had spent his entire career with American oil company Exxon, much of it based in Brussels.

Described as health-conscious and relaxed, he was said to welcome the challenge of preparing the business for its expected privatisation.

It has not been an easy task. BNFL took over the state-owned Magnox reactors after British Energy was privatised.


But it also acquired the massive decommissioning liabilities for the ageing stations, which some analysts felt would hinder BNFL's diversification plans.

In 1997, Mr Taylor launched a cost-cutting programme aimed at saving about 200m by 2001. The unions feared substantial job losses, which the company denied.

Mr Taylor also had to contend with lengthy shutdowns at Sellafield's new reprocessing plant.

When the government announced plans to sell 49% of BNFL last year, sceptics wondered whether investors would be interested in this lumbering giant with its public image problems and Magnox liabilities.

BNFL plant The planned privatisation might be called off
But Mr Taylor argued that BNFL had repositioned itself, and was on track to become the world's leading nuclear business.

It had moved into nuclear clean-up and decommissioning work with the 600m acquisition of US group Westinghouse's nuclear arm.

But the Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, said if health, safety and environmental standards were not met, the float would be called off.

It was safety issues which led to Mr Taylor's downfall.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate found safety data records had been falsified on shipments of uranium and plutonium mixed oxide fuel that were bound for Japan.

Mr Taylor went to Japan to apologise to his clients for the falsification. The Japanese have demanded the consignment be sent back.

'Appropriate action'

But despite the damning criticism of BNFL management in the report, Mr Taylor sat tight, saying he had a duty to customers to sort things out.

It soon became clear however, that he had to go. Stephen Byers welcomed his reported resignation, saying it was the appropriate course of action.

BNFL's global ambitions now appear badly dented. The privatisation could be called off and Sellafield faces being closed down if safety is not overhauled.

A replacement for Mr Taylor is expected to be announced soon. Whoever is selected, the challenge of repairing BNFL's reputation cannot be underestimated.

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See also:
18 Feb 00 |  UK
Nuclear plant safety condemned
24 Feb 00 |  Europe
Nuclear plant shut over Sellafield scandal
18 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan vents fury on BNFL
18 Feb 00 |  Business
BNFL's troubled history

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