British Nuclear Fuels Limited, a company specialising in the reprocessing
of spent nuclear fuel
for further use. The company owns 12% of the world nuclear market, mostly from the purchase of Westinghouses nuclear reactor division. They employ
23,000 people worldwide.
BNFL was formed in 1971 from the UK Atomic Energy Authority's production division. To this day, the UK Government
remains the sole shareholder, meaning that while they are technically a private company, they are in reality a public owned enterprise.
In 1998, they merged with Magnox
Electric (and therefore acquired that company's skill for decommissioning reactors), and in 1999 they purchased Westinghouse
Electric's nuclear business. In May 2000 they completed the purchase of the engineering giant ABB
's nuclear business. These acquisitions have made them a big player in the global atomic energy
All was not rosy though. At the start of the new millennium, BNFL was found to have falsified crucial safety data regarding a shipment of MOX
fuel to Japan
(specifically, the diameters of the pellet
s. If these were incorrect, it is quite possible that there would have been an accident.). The Japanese government was, understandably, quite pissed off about this and requested that BNFL come back to Japan and take back the unsafe fuel
. BNFL had no choice but to send their transport ship, Pacific Pintail, and pick it up. This involved a long sea journey there, a long sea journey back with a few tons of nuclear waste
and a short rail journey from the Barrow-in-Furness docks near Sellafield
This provoked a huge public outcry in many countries and within environmental groups (especially since the Pacific Pintail
docked in Japan around the time of the World Cup, and the ships course was near Jamaica
and the African horn
-one slipup and a large area would have been contaminated) and by the end of the journey Greenpeace
(who had been keeping daily updates on the Pintail on the internet), The Independent
(who had a nice big front page picture of the ship which I sadly lost) and Sky News
(who covered the docking of the ship into Barrow-in-Furness on live TV) were on the case. Needless to say, it does not look like BNFL will be making many shipments from now on.
Also, BNFL has been regularly dumping nuclear waste into the Irish Sea
, enraging fishermen, local people and the Irish, who have had the radioactive metal washing up on their beaches for decades-the Irish sea is now the most radioactive in the world. Even more worrying, the first dumpings were deliberate-BNFL wished to see what would happen to marine life
when it was exposed to radioactivity (now there's a tough question
). Recently, secret papers were picked up by the Independent, which showed that the Ministry of Defence
in the 1950s wished to deliberately contaminate meat with technetium
to prepare Britain for all out nuclear attack. Sensibly, the Government thought this was a crap idea and chucked it out.
Even so, the nuclear industry is one in which Britain has found a niche
, and one whose success can largely be attributed to the work of BNFL.
See Also: Cogema