BNFL: Now the Swiss ban shipments from Sellafield

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The Independent Online

British Nuclear Fuels suffered another severe blow to its commercial future with the announcement last night that Switzerland has banned further shipments of fuel from the company's Sellafield plant.

The Swiss government's federal nuclear safety inspectorate, the HSK, said it has halted all consignments of plutonium fuel rods following damning reports on Sellafield by Britain's own watchdog, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).

Switzerland is now the fourth country - following Japan, Germany and Sweden - to ban nuclear trade with Sellafield following revelations that BNFL workers falsified quality control data on mixed oxide (Mox) fuel.

The NII identified systematic management failures at Sellafield and gave BNFL two months to develop a strategy to improve safety or risk the closure of its nuclear waste reprocessing operation.

Switzerland's inspectors made the decision to ban fuel shipments despite reassurances from BNFL and the NII that safety data on the Swiss consigments of Mox fuel rods had not been falsified.

A statment from the HSK confirmed it would not be issuing permits to ship spent fuel from Swiss reactors to Britain for reprocessing into Mox fuel. "We are concerned about the disrespect of safety standards in the Sellafield reprocessing plant," the HSK said. It said permits for Mox fuel would only be issued when BNFL had demonstrated "significant improvements" in its safety procedures.

BNFL said the HSK decision was "unfortunate" given that it has shown there was no data falsification of Swiss fuel. A BNFL statement issued last night says safety is the company's "first priority".

"BNFL would welcome the opportunity to meet with HSK on an early timescale to provide them with the reassurances they require. We look forward to an early resumption of spent fuel movements from Switzerland," BNFL said.

The Swiss announcement will make it more difficult for BNFL to convince the Government it is ready for part-privatisation, which ministers already accept will be delayed as a result of the scandal.

BNFL is preparing its response to the NII which it expects to be ready by the middle of April.