Nuclear industry feels squeeze as 3,200 jobs are axed: Delay in commissioning reprocessing plant at Sellafield is blamed for BNFL cutbacks

BRITISH Nuclear Fuels is to shed 3,200 jobs largely because of delays in commissioning the new Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant, the state- owned company said yesterday.

Its announcement brings the total number of jobs to be cut in the Governments' three main nuclear power businesses between 1990 and the end of next year to about 10,000.

The once cosseted nuclear industry, now facing increasing competition and a rapid decline in the state backing it enjoyed under Margaret Thatcher, is undergoing the same scale of cutbacks experienced in other energy sectors such as coal and conventional power generation.

About 1,000 employees working for contractors who built Thorp - Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant - at Sellafield, Cumbria, will leave in the next two weeks and a further 700 will depart by the end of the year.

These contract staff were due to have ended their employment at Thorp once the controversial pounds 2.8bn plant had been commissioned. But their departure has been brought forward because of the indefinite delay in starting operations. Many may have to be rehired when, or if, Thorp is brought into service.

British Nuclear Fuels said it would also be shedding 1,500 white-collar staff over the next two years and hoped no compulsory redundancies would be necessary. Most of the job losses will be at its Risley headquarters where there are 2,600 office staff.

The corporation said the cuts in staff jobs were partly a knock-on effect from the delay in commissioning Thorp. But the early end to the 1,700 contract jobs at Thorp involving firms such as Babcock, Laing and Balfour Beatty was a direct result of the Government's announcement this week that there must be further public consultations over the fate of the plant. Downing Street pointed out that the jobs would eventually have been lost in any case.

'The existing delays have cost nearly pounds 50m and further delays will inevitably cost the company tens of millions of pounds,' a statement from British Nuclear Fuels' board said. It added that 600 staff had already been laid off as a result of the existing eight-month delay.

But the board welcomed the strong support for Thorp expressed by Mr Major and other Cabinet ministers in a Government amendment to a motion in a House of Commons debate on Monday. It 'expressed great regret' at the decision to hold a second round of public consultations on the need for the plant.

State-owned Nuclear Electric, with 14 nuclear power stations in England and Wales, had more than 14,000 staff when it was taken out of the now defunct Central Electricity Generating Board in March 1990. Now it employs under 11,000 and numbers will fall to 9,500 in 1995. UKAEA, formerly the Atomic Energy Authority, employed 14,000 people in 1988. Numbers have fallen to 8,000 and will decline to little more than 7,000 next year; much of its business is now non-nuclear.

Only state-owned Scottish Nuclear, which has two stations north of the border, intends to keep staff numbers near constant at about 1,800.

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