Nuclear group sells commercial arm

A major slice of the country's nuclear expertise is to transfer into private hands after the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) today announced the £50 million sale of its commercial arm.

The authority has agreed the sale of the entirety of its wholly-owned business UKAEA Limited to defence and energy support services firm Babcock International.

UKAEA, which employs around 230 people, oversees nuclear clean-up work at three sites in the UK and offers consultancy services in international markets.

Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, said: "Today's announcement is good news for UKAEA Limited and its employees.

"The sale will allow the company, as part of Babcock International, to continue its development and take advantage of new opportunities in the nuclear industry.

"It also generates good value for the taxpayer."

The sale of UKAEA is the first of its kind under a Government efficiency programme and follows a decision by the authority to build up its commercial arm to a point at which it could operate independently.

In a statement, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills said selling the business would "help to reinforce the UK's strong heritage in the nuclear industry and provide a platform for the further development of skills in this important marketplace".

The UKAEA sell-off has attracted criticism from the Conservatives, who questioned its timing and raised fears that it could be motivated from a short-term need to boost the battered public finances during the recession.

Today the chairman of the UKAEA, Lady Judge, said the organisation was "delighted" with the sale.

"The new ownership structure will help give UKAEA Limited greater commercial focus on its operations, allowing it to capitalise on its core skills, strong track record and brand and I am confident that it will continue its growth in the UK and internationally under Babcock International's ownership," she said.

UKAEA is handling decommissioning work for the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency at Dounreay in Scotland, Winfrith in Dorset, and Harwell in Oxfordshire. It also has offices in Warrington and Cumbria.

The sale, which follows a strategic review performed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority following the Energy Act 2004, is expected to be completed by the end of this year.