The wait goes on for BNFL and its $500m refund from the US

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The Independent Online

BNFL, the state-owned nuclear group, could be forced to wait another six months to be awarded around $500m (£269m) in compensation from the US government over cost overruns on clean-up work.

BNFL, the state-owned nuclear group, could be forced to wait another six months to be awarded around $500m (£269m) in compensation from the US government over cost overruns on clean-up work.

Spencer Abraham last week resigned as head of the US Department of Energy, which has been leading the compensation negotiations.

BNFL, which operates the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, fears that the disruption caused by the reshuffle will mean that it will take even longer to reach a settlement. Joan McNaughton, the director-general of energy at the Department of Trade and Industry, has been holding talks with her US counterpart on behalf of the loss-making BNFL over the past year.

The row centres on two fixed-price clean-up contracts which the US government awarded to BNFL in the 1990s. The company has spent more than the value of the contracts because the extent of contamination at the sites is greater than it realised when it offered to carry out the work.

It has also emerged that Laurence Williams, chief inspec- tor of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), the safety watchdog, has been offered the job of director of safety at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the new government body being set up in April to manage Sellafield. It is understood he has not yet decided whether to accept the post.

During his six-year tenure as the head of the NII, BNFL was embroiled in a data-falsification scandal in 1998 over Mox fuel pellets made at Sellafield that the company was shipping to Japan. Although Mr Williams was not held directly responsible for the fiasco, some nuclear insiders feel that, because of his link to the scandal, he should not be given the NDA post, which will be responsible for BNFL's £48bn of nuclear liabilities.

Mr Williams has also been criticised for failing to deal with decaying plutonium and uranium rods dumped in a storage pond called B30 at Sellafield. In September, the European Commission said that it was taking the Government to court over the failure to dispose of the waste.

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