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2000: Nuclear chief quits over safety scandal

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) has confirmed its chief executive, John Taylor, has resigned over the safety scandal that has attracted severe criticism from watchdogs.

A damning report published last week by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate confirmed that some safety records relating to a shipment of uranium and plutonium mixed oxide fuel to Japan had been faked at BNFL's Sellafield in Cumbria.

After a day of speculation, BNFL issued a statement saying Mr Taylor was leaving after four years in the job.

BNFL chairman Hugh Collum said: "We now have the opportunity to move ahead with a fresh sheet."

There was also speculation that other senior managers could leave over the scandal.

Mr Taylor initially refused to step down, despite further findings in the report of "systematic management failures".

But the pressure on him mounted, and Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers today issued a statement welcoming his decision to step down, even before it was officially confirmed by the company.

Mr Byers said: "In the circumstances, it was the appropriate course of action. We can now look forward to a fresh start at BNFL under a new chief executive."

'Rough justice'

But union leader Jack Dromey, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said the departure of Mr Taylor was "rough justice" for a good chief executive.

"It is sadly clear that the company's customers are demanding change at the top if confidence is to be restored.

"He is the victim of past failures rather than personal failures," said Mr Dromey.

Mr Taylor's resignation won no praise from environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.

"Re-arranging deck chairs on a sinking ship is no help to anyone. BNFL only has a long term commercial future if it changes the very nature of what it does," said Patrick Green, senior nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

In Context
In 2002 there were 16 nuclear power stations in the UK - half operated by BNFL and half by British Energy which was privatised in 1996.

BNFL was not privatised because its Magnox plants were old and expensive to run, so it was deemed better that they were kept in state hands. Between them they produce 25% of Britain's electricity.

In July 2002, BNFL reported a 2.3bn loss for the last financial year, the worst result in the company's history.

The record losses are thought to reflect the cost of cleaning up radioactive sites and closing some reactors.

All power stations run by BNFL are due to close by 2010.

Fears about the safety of nuclear power stations were compounded by the partial meltdown at Three-Mile Island in the USA in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in Russia in 1986.

But with the advent of global warming caused in part by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, scientific advisers to the British government are arguing for a re-investment in a safer form of nuclear power in the future.


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