BNFL reports another huge deficit

Radioaktive utslipp fra dete røret vil fortsette i ti år til.
Foto: Erik Martiniussen/ Bellona

Publish date: July 17, 2002

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

New investigations on the Sellafield plant have lead to red numbers in the balance sheet of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL). The total costs of the company’s clean-up operation are estimated to £ 40,5bn.

Clean-up initiatives on the Sellafield plant among other facilities have caused red numbers in British Nuclear Fuels’ account book. Yesterday the company submitted the annual balance sheet for 2001, and disclosed a deficit amounting to as much as £ 1,9bn, which make up the greatest deficit in the company’s history. These figures will create problems for the Blair government, which has plans to privatise parts of the company.

Discharges oblige
On the whole, the deficit is caused by increasingly urgent clean-up demands.

Over the last years, BNFL has discharged more than 500 TBq of radioactive technetium-99 to the Irish Sea, for the very purpose of reducing the amount of waste, which at a later stage would require handling. The controversial discharges do however only solve a small fraction of the storage problems that the company is faced with. On the Sellafield site, several thousand cubic metre of historic liquid waste demanding purification, handling and deposition, is stored. Some of the older storage tank facilities are leaking, and the need for handling the waste is urgent.

The total assessments of the cleaning-up costs of the company’s nuclear sins, which has continued for more than 50 years, has recently been raised from £ 34,8bn to exorbitant £ 40,5bn.

Old power plants
In addition to the above, comes the costs of decommissioning the oldest nuclear reactors, currently about to be taken out of operation. All together, 26 so-called Magnox reactors, out of which 8 are still in operation, are to be decommissioned in the forthcoming years. Prior to the decommissioning of the actual plant followed by the deconstruction of the reactor tanks, the reactors must be emptied of fuel. According to BNFL’s estimations it will take several decades to dismantle each individual power plant.

The remaining Magnox reactors, some of which are more than 40 years old, produce little energy, and are regular loss-making undertakings. A recent announcement shows that to shut down 8 of these reactors will cost the company between £ 150 and 200m.

d72b87062c434980541795da43b59a0c.jpeg Photo: Richart Hauglin/ Natur og Samfunn

Excused from responsibility
In early June a white paper regarding the British Government’s key policies on financing and regulations of the nuclear industry was submitted. The paper proposes the establishment of a separate corporation, Liabilities Management Authority (LMA), which is to take care of future nuclear clean-up. BNFL is now pressing for a soon acceptance of the proposal in the Government. The head of BNFL, Norman Askew, stated the following in a press release:

– I would now urge the Government to enact the legislation needed at the earliest available opportunity so that we can drive forward the important work of dealing with UK’s nuclear legacy in a safe, efficient and cost-effective way.
According to the recent plans, the government-owned corporation will take over the enormous clean-up costs, so that BNFL is spared from carrying the costs of its own waste. Instead, the British taxpayers must bear the brunt.

It is not long ago that the British Government ascertained that BNFL for quite some time had practised so-called creative bookkeeping. According to the report, BNFL had applied guarantees that were earmarked for future clean-up operations, to turn up the company’s income.

d6b558e5e8138b47fe83374f3ed86b25.jpeg Photo: Foto: Greenpeace

MOX on its way from Japan
Concurrently with the company experiencing economic adversity at home, BNFL has committed to return eight MOX elements that was delivered to the Japanese nuclear company Kansai Electric Power Company in 1999. The reason for this is that the fuel had deficient safety analysis, resulting in the Japanese company refusing to use the nuclear fuel. Consequently, on July 4th the two ships with MOX fuel put off from Takahama, Japan, headed for England. The two ships intend to go by way of the south-west Pacific and continue around the Cape of Good Hope before heading northwards to England and Sellafield, where BNFL has plans to reprocess the useless fuel.

The transportation has caused major protests internationally. Countries such as Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand have strongly opposed this transportation to go through their territorial waters. The foreign minister of New Zealand has denied such transports to enter in on the country’s economical zone, which extends 200 nautical miles outside their coastline.

On Saturday, Greenpeace International, who has monitored the two vessels from a small aeroplane, could, among other things, reveal that the transportation had offended Micronesia’s economical zone. Micronesia has explicitly stated that it does not wish such transports in its territorial waters.

It is the BNFL-owned ship Pacific Pintail that transports the fuel, exported by the sister ship Pacific Teal. Both ships have a dead weight upwards of 3,700 tons and are armed with a 30-mm. canon placed on afterdeck. Furthermore, when transporting MOX it is a request that the ship personnel are armed.