US may abandon its contract with BNFL

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The United States government has said it it is "disturbed" and "dismayed" by the conduct of British Nuclear Fuels, which has more than doubled its bill for a massive clean-up at an American nuclear site.

Bill Richardson, the Energy Secretary, said in a statement that he is "evaluating possible alternative approaches including recompeting to seek other contractors" for the operation at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, for which BNFL Inc, BNFL's US subsidiary, is now demanding $15.2bn (£10bn). "We will not approve this proposal," he said. "The price is unacceptably high and is unfundable."

His criticism went wider than the cost. "I have also been disturbed by the series of senior management changes in BNFL," he said.

Hanford nuclear reservation, where weapons-grade plutonium was produced for 50 years, now contains 54 million gallons of radioactive waste in 177 underground storage tanks, some of which have leaked.

BNFL Inc won the contract to build and operate a vitrification plant to turn the waste into glass at an original projected cost of $6.9bn, half of which was for the financing of the high-risk project. But when it submitted the final plan on Monday, the cost had increased to $15.2bn.

BNFL Inc's president and chief executive, Paul Miskimin, said the price was reasonable considering the commercial risk of the project but "in all likelihood" was not affordable. "Few people now believe this is the right way to finance this job," he admitted.

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