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Blair to lobby Japanese PM in bid to secure the future of Sellafield

Tony Blair will lobby the Japanese Prime Minister today to help British Nuclear Fuels win crucial contracts for its beleaguered Sellafield plant.

Tony Blair will lobby the Japanese Prime Minister today to help British Nuclear Fuels win crucial contracts for its beleaguered Sellafield plant.

Mr Blair will use a bilateral meeting ahead of the G8 summit in Okinawa to reassure Yoshiro Mori that BNFL has overhauled its management since the scandal over falsified safety records. The Prime Minister will tell his counterpart that the Government believes the two countries can build on last week's agreement to return a shipment of flawed nuclear fuel from Japan to Sellafield.

In his most direct intervention to date in the controversy, Mr Blair will make clear that he has full confidence in the plant's safety and will support BNFL's attempts to win enough contracts to make viable its £300m mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel plant.

His decision to lobby on behalf of the company will dismay environmentalists, but trade unionists and business leaders in Cumbria were delighted last night that they had his support.

BNFL managed to settle the Japanese crisis last week by agreeing to give Japan £40m in compensation and to take back the suspect fuel shipments, at a total estimated cost of £100m.

The Mox plant, which has remained idle for a year, is still awaiting the consent of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) and final approval from the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to operate commercially. However, senior government sources indicated that if the NII gives the go-ahead, Mr Prescott is likely to grant approval because he shares Mr Blair's fears about the jobs of 10,000 BNFL workers.

"Tony is very, very pro-Sellafield, he knows how many jobs are at risk in one of the most deprived areas of the country," a source said. "We know the Japanese have domestic political problems, but we are confident that we can make progress."

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "We are committed to BNFL sorting out their act and we believe they are doing that and in those circumstances we believe the Japanese have no reason to exclude BNFL from contract negotiations."

Jack Cunningham, the former cabinet minister, led a delegation of Cumbrian business leaders, councillors and union leaders to meet the Prime Minister and Helen Liddell, the Trade minister, at No 10 on Tuesday. He told BBC Radio Cumbria: "Mr Blair made it clear that when he's in Japan he is going to speak to the Japanese government about new business for Sellafield, which is key for reprocessing of course, but for the future of the Mox plant as well."

The Prime Minister's involvement has angered anti-nuclear campaigners. Pete Roche, of Greenpeace, said: "On the one hand, the Government talks about leaving commercial decisions to BNFL and its customers but Blair seems ready to intervene to promote a dangerous trade in plutonium, which nobody really wants."