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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"BNFL has already lost business in Germany"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 20:56 GMT
US reconsiders BNFL contract
Safety culture at Sellafield was severely criticised
The US Government is coming under increased pressure from environmental groups to suspend its contracts with British Nuclear Fuels following troubles at the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria.

On Thursday Switzerland became the latest country to halt fuel shipments.

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Japan and Germany have already suspended shipments after a report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), the UK atomic watchdog, revealed a "lack of a safety culture" at the site.

It also found safety checks on fuel supplied to Japan had been falsified.

In the wake of the NII report, the US Government has said it is placing the British company's 4.4bn American operation to clean up former nuclear sites under "extra scrutiny".

Savannah river site
BNFL clean-up operations in South Carolina
BNFL has at least five contracts in the US and is lobbying for more - including plans to build a plutonium waste incinerator plant in Idaho.

But environmental groups have been putting the US Government under increased pressure since the report and it appears the energy department is acting on their fears.

US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said he had ordered his department to send a team to England to meet with British investigators.

''We are now placing BNFL under extra scrutiny because of these problems.

''I have been uneasy about some of their operations in the US. If we uncover anything, I will take swift and strong action.''

Jim Laybourn of BNFL Protest Group
Jim Laybourn of BNFL Protest Group wants the government to stop working with BNFL
He added: ''Business as usual is over with BNFL and with all our contractors, but especially with BNFL.''

In a statement, BNFL said: "We welcome the US Department of Energy's decision to comprehensively examine our operations."

It added: "BNFL Inc. has nothing to hide and we are confident that the US Department of Energy will satisfy itself that this is the case."

Gordon Mackerron, of the University of Sussex, said: "If BNFL were to be kicked out of the US market for decommissioning and clean-up it would be very serious for them.

"Prospects are exactly in this kind of market, and the US is the biggest source.

Bosses at the Swiss nuclear safety inspectorate HSK said permission to send fuel rod consignments to BNFL's Cumbrian site would not be granted until they were satisfied of "significant improvements" to its safety record.

The Swiss decision came despite a visit to Sellafield by a HSK official earlier this month to confirm that there had been no falsification of data on fuel sent to Swiss installations.

BNFL called the Swiss decision "unfortunate" but said it was implementing a series improvements ordered by the NII which it believed would persuade the HSK to recommence shipments.

A BNFL spokesman said: "We are confident these (NII) recommendations once implemented would give HSK the assurances that they require."

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See also:

28 Feb 00 | UK
Nuclear chief quits
06 Oct 99 | The Company File
Nuclear workers sacked for fake checks
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