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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"Not a company ripe for sale"
 real 28k

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West
"I am mystified by the decision"
 real 28k

Defence Minister Baroness Symons
"The issue in Aldermaston is one of safety"
 real 28k

Thursday, 30 March, 2000, 01:34 GMT 02:34 UK
Nuclear sell-off delay

BNFL has come under pressure to close Sellafield
Plans to partially privatise BNFL have been put back until 2002 at the earliest, the government has announced.

The news follows recent criticism of the company's safety record, amidst calls for the closure of its Sellafield plant.

The company's safety record had raised doubts over whether it should run the Aldermaston atomic weapons factory, as previously agreed.

But on Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence gave a BNFL-led consortium the go-ahead to run Aldermaston.

Questionmark over Aldermaston

The news will come as a relief to the consortium, called AWE Management.

A questionmark had existed over the takeover, following the safety scares at BNFL.

The Ministry of Defence had faced calls to delay its decision until the Department of Trade and Industry published its inquiry into Sellafield on 15 April.

Defence Minister Baroness Symons said the government was confident that safety would not be compromised.

"We're talking about three directors coming from BNFL and three from Lockheed Martin, the other company about whom there's been some controversy," she told the BBC.

"The records of both companies have been gone over by both the authorites and individuals have been looked at and they have declared themselves to be satisfied."

But Reading West Labour MP Martin Salter, whose constituency includes Aldermaston, has called the decision "extremely disappointing".

The consortium won the 10-year £2.2bn management contract from the Ministry of Defence in December.

As well as US defence giant Lockheed Martin it includes British defence company Serco.

Safety scares

In recent months, BNFL has been hit by a series of safety scares.

Last year, it admitted that staff at its Sellafield plant faked safety records

The false records were discovered when a shipment of BNFL's reprocessed fuel reached Japan last October.

The company has also come under fire from Ireland and Denmark to close its Sellafield plant.

The government had hoped to raise up to £1.5bn by selling off up to 49% of the company next year.

Ms Liddell says BNFL won't be privatised yet
But industry minister Helen Liddell stressed that it was important that BNFL respond "positively to the HSE's (Health and Safety Executive) reports on the Sellafield site and works to achieve necessary improvements in its safety and commercial performance."

"As a result it now appears that the earliest possible date for the introduction of any PPP (public-private partnership) into BNFL could not be before the latter part of 2002," she added.

Nuclear giant

BNFL is one of the world's biggest suppliers of nuclear services and has an annual turnover of about £2bn.

Nearly half of this comes from fuel manufacture and reactor servicing, which have emerged unscathed from the safety expectations.

About one quarter of the company's work involves the operation of Magnox nuclear power stations in the UK.

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See also:

18 Feb 00 | Business
BNFL's troubled history
18 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan vents fury on BNFL
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