PR company chosen for nuclear sell-off

MARY FAGAN

The Government has chosen Dewe Rogerson as its public relations advisor on the privatisation of the nuclear industry, which is scheduled to be sold next year. The appointment will be announced on Monday, along with expected confirmation that the new company - formed from the merger of Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear - will be based in Edinburgh.

The choice of Edinburgh is viewed as an attempt by ministers to appease the Scots, who had lobbied fiercely against the merger with Nuclear Electric.

The Government has already named Barclays de Zoete as financial advisors and global co-ordinators for the sale, which could raise as much as pounds 3bn. The nuclear company has appointed its own group of advisors, including Lazard Brothers, Charterhouse Bank and Gavin Anderson.

The consensus in the industry is that the timetable for privatisation - which ministers would like to complete next summer - is extremely tight. The Government is hoping that the sale will win favour from voters, as it it will go hand-in- hand with the abolition of the nuclear levy, which costs customers about pounds 20 each a year.

An outstanding issue is the future of the ageing Magnox plants, which are excluded from the sale and are to be passed to state-owned British Nuclear Fuels. BNFL has warned that it will refuse to take on the plants, which have billions of pounds in liabilities related to decommissioning and waste management, unless the Government states how that bill will be paid.

The transfer of the six Magnox stations to state-owned BNFL is a key element in the Government's privatisation scheme. It is unlikely that investors would touch the Magnox plant, which has estimated liabilities of pounds 9bn.

John Guinness, chairman of BNFL, said recently: "The Government cannot force us as a plc to take these liabilities on. If the board does not agree [to do so] they can remove the board. I do not want to be chairman of an insolvent firm."

He added: "As directors we have to behave responsibly. We welcome the Magnox plants in principle, but we attach great importance to the issue of liabilities and the terms have yet to be made clear."

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