The Health & Safety Executive (HSE), the UK’s independent nuclear safety regulator, announced that it is satisfied that BNFL has completed all the recommendations in its report on the company’s mixed oxide (MOX) demonstration facility (MDF) at Sellafield.
HSE began an investigation in September 1999 after BNFL informed it of apparent falsification of quality assurance records relating to MOX fuel for supply to a customer in Japan. The findings were published on 18 January 2000 and BNFL responded on 18 April 2000. Since then the HSE’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has been rigorously testing the evidence supplied by BNFL. This included examination of records, inspection of plant and new procedures and interviews with staff. For the last recommendation (recommendation 15) they interviewed senior officers of the company, including Norman Askew, chief executive at BNFL.
Mr Askew said: “This is excellent news for the company. It opens the way to the re-commissioning of MDF as a support facility which is the next step to the eventual commissioning of the Sellafield MOX plant.” However, the future of the MOX plant (SMP) is still uncertain. The plant was completed in 1996, but it cannot open for business without the approval of the department of the environment, transport and the regions (DETR). Following the report on the MDF, BNFL has provided the DETR with a revised application for the SMP. The environment minister, Michael Meacher is said to be reluctant to authorise the SMP until it can prove it is economically viable. A major factor in viability is whether Sellafield can win reprocessing contracts from Japan. However, Japanese authorities are reluctant to award those contracts until the plant is authorised. The country represents 50% of the potential market for MOX fuel contracts.