BNFL under fire over cash to US politicians

British Nuclear Fuels has been donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to American politicians as part of a lavish lobbying exercise which has been concealed from British ministers.

The state-owned nuclear company, which is today expected to report record losses of £2bn, has been funding Republican and Democrat groups without the knowledge of its chief executive or the British Government.

A record of payments, obtained by The Independent, shows that in the past four years the company has paid $300,000 (£193,000) to powerful Democrat campaign groups and right-wing Republican committees.

BNFL said the payments, which are expected to be made public by the company today, were "part of the way that business is done in the US''.

"It's a sort of lobbying, called 'soft money' contributions. Every competitor in the US is doing this," said a spokesman.

But the practice has been condemned by opposition MPs as a massive waste of taxpayer's money. They want the cash, much of which has been channelled into right-wing republican organisations, to be recouped by the Government.

The political donations were made by three US subsidiary companies wholly-owned by BNFL.

They have not been revealed in BNFL's UK accounts and were made without the knowledge of Norman Askew, the chief executive. They also contradict BNFL's policy in the UK of banning donations to political parties. It is understood that British executives have ordered the payments to be stopped.

The donations, ranging from $250 to $50,000, were made by BNFL Inc, which is involved in decommissioning and cleaning up US government sites, Westinghouse Electric Company LLC, and BNFL Savannah River Corporation.

This year they include a $50,000 donation to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a $25,000 donation to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $2,000 to the campaign of Greg Ryberg, a Republican running for office as South Carolina State Treasurer.

In May, the company paid hundreds of dollars to register at a Republican golf tournament. Last year it paid $5,000 to attend the New Mexico Republican Party dinner.

BNFL, whose sole shareholders are Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and the Treasury Solicitor, Juliet Wheldon, will today publish accounts showing record losses because of the early closure of two Magnox power plans.

The annual report is expected for the first time to reveal the political donations BNFL, which funds its operations from commercial activities, has been making.

"It is a huge public scandal that a state-owned company is doling out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer's money on US political parties," said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes.

"I would have thought they should have been trying to minimise the billion pound bill that taxpayers are facing rather than handing out more money to Americans."

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