Nuclear 'white elephant' eyes a profit

A controversial BNFL nuclear plant at Sellafield, which has cost taxpayers £473m and been branded a white elephant, is expected to make its first profit next year, according to confidential figures.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that BNFL is expecting to generate £45m of income in the 12 months to 31 March 2006 from the sale of so-called Mox fuel from its Cumbrian facility.

The projections have been passed to the Government's new Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which will use the money to help fund the clean-up of Britain's radioactive sites.

The Mox plant has been dogged with technical problems and, despite the huge sums of money invested in it, BNFL still has not managed to complete the assembly of any Mox fuel.

However, BNFL executives hope to secure the first sale of Mox fuel to the Swiss power company NOX next year. It is understood that BNFL has also secured potential orders from German energy giant E.ON and Swedish utility OKG.

Tony Blair personally pushed through the go-ahead for the Mox plant in 2001 against the wishes of his then environment minister, Michael Mea-cher. The Government has written off the £475m invested in the plant. Mr Meacher, along with the former Conservative environment secretary John Gummer, is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the Mox plant.

Mr Gummer said: "We need clear and open information from BNFL to show that the money they expect to make from Mox is going to be there."

The NDA will begin life on 1 April with £2.2bn to spend in its first year. Around £1bn of this is expected to be used on cleaning up and operating BNFL's Sellafield facility. The various Sellafield operations, including Mox fuel generation, are forecast to produce £860m next year.

A BNFL spokesman said: "We cannot comment on the Mox figures as they are commercially confidential." The NDA also refused to comment.