A consortium of three firms from the US, UK and France was today named as the preferred bidder for a multi-billion-pound contract to run the UK's biggest nuclear site.
The US giant Washington International, Amec of the UK and French firm Areva beat three rivals to win the race to manage work at the huge Sellafield site in Cumbria.
The reprocessing and clean-up work will be worth £1.3 billion a year, generating estimated profits of £50 million a year.
The contract, which has been described as being on a similar financial scale to the London Olympics in 2012, will initially run for five years but could be extended to 17 years.
Dr Ian Roxburgh, chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which made the announcement, said the appointment of the consortium, known as Nuclear Management Partners, was a "significant step forward" in the NDA's drive to attract world- class management and innovation to the UK's nuclear decommissioning industry.
"We have successfully completed an intensive evaluation process aimed at securing the best possible parent body for Sellafield, where the most complex challenges we face exist.
"Nuclear Management Partners have emerged from a very strong field of four bidders, all of whom surpassed the evaluation threshold.
"The NDA will now move towards contract finalisation and ultimately the award of this contract, the successful implementation of which is crucial to the mission of the overall clean-up and decommissioning of the UK's existing nuclear legacy."
Stephen Henwood, chairman of the NDA, said: "This competition involves one of, if not the, most significant public sector procurements for UK plc. The importance of achieving world-class performance throughout the Sellafield sites cannot be under-estimated."
Samir Brikho, chief executive of Amec, said: "Amec is delighted to be part of the consortium successfully selected as preferred bidder for one of the most important public sector contracts in the UK.
"Amec and our consortium members will be contributing world- class skills to Sellafield, ensuring that this programme is carried out safely and effectively to the benefit of the taxpayer."
Didier Pfleger, chief operating officer of Amec's power and process division, said: "This is a significant recognition of the expertise within Amec's nuclear business.
"We are delighted that the NDA has acknowledged the unique combination of skills within the consortium and we now look forward to getting under way and making a significant contribution on this complex and demanding programme."
The other bidders were US engineering firm CH2M Hill Nuclear Services and two consortiums made up of Fluor of the US and Japanese giant Toshiba; and Bechtel of the US, Serco of the UK and Babcock & Wilcox of the US.
The successful consortium will face the threat of industrial action by thousands of workers at Sellafield in a dispute over pay after unions rejected a 2% offer, with an extra 2% based on efficiencies.
Workers will be balloted on whether to take industrial action.
Gary Smith, national officer of the GMB, said: "The competition process has been long and drawn out. GMB look forward to engaging with the successful company.
"The GMB and the other unions, with the workforce and the local community, are very keen to start talking in a meaningful way about the future plans for the Sellafield site.
"Sellafield has a committed and skilled workforce who should be at the centre of a renaissance in the nuclear industry. GMB consider that they are key to meeting the UK's future demand for energy.
"It is essential that the successful group has a clear vision about Sellafield having a viable future to ensure continued community support for the nuclear industry."
Mike Clancy, assistant general secretary of the Prospect trade union, which represents 15,000 scientists, engineers and professional staff in the nuclear industry, said the announcement was "welcome news".
He added: "Sellafield makes up the most complex nuclear organisation in the world so good relations between the management and the workforce will be key to its successful future.
"We have already been involved in regular dialogue with the Nuclear Management Partners during the lengthy competition period and look forward to building on that relationship. We have already enjoyed a long working relationship with Amec.
"Staff want a partnership that looks beyond the gates of the Sellafield sites and is willing to invest in local communities and to promote employment opportunities for local people.
"As far as Sellafield is concerned, our members are looking for investment in new commercial opportunities, such as fuel reprocessing, new build, as well as investment in staff."
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