Goodbye to BNFL

9 August 2016

The UK government, as part of a major reduction of public bodies, has decided to finally abolish British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL). The company, which was launched in 1971, grew to manage the UK's nuclear fuel cycle centres and all 26 Magnox nuclear power reactors. It established a US-based decommissioning division in 1990, bought the reactor vendor Westinghouse in 1999, and in 2000 bought the nuclear business of ABB and integrated it into Westinghouse. In its own words, BNFL was "a highly influential and respected nuclear company with operations across the UK and overseas”. 

However, from 2002 the UK government began to restructure its nuclear industry. Focusing on decommissioning, and it was decided to reduce the scope of national assets would be controlled by the state. National facilities and their clean-up liabilities were transferred from BNFL to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and the spin-off of BNFL's subsidiaries.

This divestment process was officially completed in May 2009 leaving BNFL as simply a holding entity prepared to meet pension liabilities and any obligations that could arise during the decommissioning programme. The decision to dissolve BNFL came with the closure of quangos (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations), a plethora of expert bodies set up to independently advise the UK government. As a public corporation BNFL was considered to be one of these. In October, prime minister David Cameron's government announced the reform of 481 quangos and the abolition of BNFL, "subject to transferring remaining assets and liabilities”.

Science, technology and research work now comes under the National Nuclear Laboratory, based at Sellafield. Clean-up specialist British Nuclear Group Project Services was acquired by VT Group, part of Babcock International.  Westinghouse is now owned by Toshiba, Shaw Group and Ishikawajima-Hariwa Heavy Industries. It also operates the Springfields fuel manufacturing site. US decommissioning business BNFL Inc changed its name to BNG America and was later bought by Envirocare to form Energy Solutions.

Sellafield assets such as the Thorp reprocessing plant, the mixed oxide fuel plant and the Calder Hall reactors are owned by NDA. A parent body contract awarded to a consortium of Areva, URS and Amec manages the site.

International Nuclear Services, now owned by the NDA, is responsible for the return of mixed oxide fuel and waste to reprocessing customers and its subsidiary, Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, carries out the shipments.

The Magnox reactors, apart from Calder Hall, are owned by the NDA. BNFL's former management operation is split into two companies, Magnox North and Magnox South, and owned by Energy Solutions. A one-third share in Urenco has been transferred to government, which "continues to explore options for realizing value" from the stake.



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