British Nuclear Fuels chief escapes boardroom coup

The chief executive of British Nuclear Fuels, the state-owned company which operates the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria, appears to have survived an attempt to oust him.

A boardroom rift within the troubled company had threatened to unseat Mike Parker after he clashed with the new BNFL chairman Gordon Campbell. However, it appears that an attempt to muster support among non-executive directors for a boardroom coup against Mr Parker has failed.

Senior sources say that a high degree of tension developed between Mr Parker and Mr Campbell after he took over as chairman earlier this year. His appointment coincided with moves to break up BNFL and transfer ownership of the Sellafield site and its Magnox nuclear power stations to the Government's new Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Mr Campbell's unhappiness with his chief executive is said to have come to a head at a meeting of BNFL's non-executives on 22 September. The meeting, held over dinner at Wiltons Restaurant on Jermyn Street close to BNFL's London head office, is understood to have discussed the idea of replacing Mr Parker.

Concern was voiced about whether Mr Parker was sufficiently accountable to his fellow directors and his apparent desire to become a US-style chief executive, reporting to a much smaller board. Before joining BNFL in August last year, Mr Parker was president and chief executive of the Dow Chemical Company in Michigan in the US.

Mr Campbell is also thought to have been concerned that Mr Parker had failed to get to grips with his job, and had ceded too much power to Lawrie Haynes. Mr Haynes was appointed this year to run British Nuclear Group, the BNFL subsidiary set up to manage and operate the facilities being transferred into the decommissioning authority.

Mr Campbell's concerns were supported by some but not all of BNFL's non-executives.

Speculation about the tensions between Mr Campbell and Mr Parker surfaced in nuclear industry circles after a second board meeting in Washington, about two weeks ago.

The company is in a state of flux. The Government abandoned plans to privatise the business three years ago after a safety scandal but recently there has been renewed speculation about a sale of BNFL's US division Westinghouse.

Mr Campbell said last night: "We have not, and are not, considering any top management changes at BNFL. To suggest otherwise is totally false."

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