Energy minister to bat for BNFL in Japan

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The energy minister, Stephen Timms, will next month attempt to persuade the Japanese government to end it four-year ban on buying fuel from British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL).

Securing new contracts for the so-called Mox fuel will help to safeguard the future of BNFL, which last year went £1.09bn into the red and is subject to a government review of its future.

BNFL lost one of its major markets in 1999 after quality assurance documents relating to a shipment of Mox to Japan were found to be falsified.

But Mr Timms, who is due to arrive in Japan on 3 November, is expected to persuade officials that BNFL has cleaned up its act.

Mr Timms said: "I imagine that there will be some discussion about [BNFL]. It is a rather historic issue, but one I know about. Quite understandably, it does give rise to a good deal of concern in Japan. My visit to Japan will cover a range of topics, but that is one I will cover."

This summer, the Trade Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, abandoned plans to part-privatise BNFL. But in a further sign the Government doesn't see BNFL as a lost cause, Mr Timms said that he thought that "there is a long-term future" for the company.

Mr Timms' Japanese trip will follow a visit by former energy minister Brian Wilson in 2001. Mr Wilson met with the heads of BNFL's former clients Kansai Electric and Tokyo Electric Power to apologise for the scandal.