BNFL looks at US bonds

BRITISH Nuclear Fuels may tap the United States bond markets to fund the building of American mini-Sellafield reprocessing plants after winning the first stage of a $6.9bn (pounds 4.2bn) nuclear clean-up contract at Hanford, in Washington state, in the north-west corner of the US, writes Andrew Garfield.

It would be the first time the company will have resorted to private capital for funds. The company has been wholly self-financing so far because of the long-standing industry practice of paying for reprocessing up front.

"We may have to raise finance in this way. It is something we are looking at," the finance director, Ross Chiese, said.

Once the $1.2bn acquisition of Westinghouse's nuclear business in collaboration with America's Morris Knudsen is completed at the end of the year, some 25 per cent of BNFL's activity will be in the private sector.

However, John Taylor, the chief executive, said there had been no discussion with the government about possible privatisation of the group, a highly controversial step given the widespread public concern about the safety of the nuclear reprocessing industry.

The firm is a net contributor to the Treasury to the tune of pounds 53m this year, up from pounds 46m. BNFL's cash pile nearly doubled to pounds 4.5bn this year with the takeover of Magnox Electric, the government-owned operator of older nuclear plants. "There is nothing we have wanted to do that we have not been able to do with the Government as our shareholder," Mr Taylor said.

Profits before tax fell from pounds 216m to pounds 199m in the year to 31 March, taking into account Magnox losses. Turnover was up from pounds 1.26bn to pounds 1.34bn.