BNFL replaces directors in 'one shot' shake-up

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The chief executive of British Nuclear Fuels warned yesterday that it had only "one shot" to recover from the scandal over falsified safety data at the Sellafield reprocessing works in Cumbria.

Norman Askew also admitted that it could take at least a year to regain the confidence of BNFL's Japanese customers who are crucial to the future of the controversial Mox fuel plant at Sellafield.

Mr Askew was speaking as BNFL unveiled a shake-up of its management and safety procedures in response to a damning report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. Seven board members, including the finance director, Ross Chiese, are leaving, with the directors responsible for safety and human relations, while 70 staff are being recruited, many of them from outside the company, to strengthen BNFL's safety arrangements.

Mr Askew said that BNFL was intending to reopen the Mox demonstrator facility at Sellafield in July, provided the NII gave it the all-clear. The plant was shut last September after The Independent disclosed that staff had falsified safety records relating to batches of Mox fuel bound for Japan.

But Mr Askew said it would be "a long, long job" before BNFL could open a £300m commercial Mox plant at Sellafield, on which its future depends. Hugh Collum, the chairman of BNFL, said it would take the fuel back from Japan as a "short-term solution for the long-term benefit of the group" if that was necessary to obtain future orders.

Asked whether this was the last chance for BNFL, Mr Askew said: "I never like talking last chances because I feel there is always a wall you can bounce back off. But I don't think it's a bad way of looking at it. I've said to people, 'We've got one shot at this'. We've got to be serious."

As part of BNFL's new policy of transparency, Mr Askew promised that the person who blew the whistle on the falsification of data would not be disciplined if his or her identity ever became known. "I am not in a position to pursue any disciplinary action against anybody. What would we do it for?"

Four process workers have been sacked, two managers are leaving and other workers in the Mox plant have been retrained or moved elsewhere. Mr Askew could not say whether more staff would be disciplined over the incident.

BNFL is to recruit a new executive director of health, safety and the environment to replace the current safety director, David Coulston. The six non-executive directors who are being replaced include John Rimmington, former head of the Health and Safety Executive and the husband of Stella Rimmington, former head of MI5.

Helen Liddell, the Energy minister, welcomed the "rescue plan".