NII sets out PPP position

1 April 2000

If proposals to part-privatise BNFL include plans to split control of the Sellafield site they would be unacceptable, according to a representation from the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. Breaking up BNFL into separate operating companies would also require relicensing.

The representation was made to a government Select Committee considering the ‘public-private partnership’ proposed for BNFL. The Committee was trying to discover, in the words of member Lindsay Hoyle, whether private management was “better management or just slicker management”. The Committee is investigating the recent history of BNFL and the likely effect of privatisation.

Giving evidence to the Committee, Nuclear Installations Inspectorate chief inspector Laurence Williams, said that during the early 1990s quality and management at BNFL had improved. However, in the late 1990s the company had undergone internal restructuring and it, and the Sellafield site, was split into several businesses. This made management more complex, he said, and the NII wrote to BNFL at that time with concerns about the reorganisation and about downsizing.

Williams noted that downsizing had put pressure on all the nuclear companies: “The experience of the last few years has been one of outsourcing, reducing personnel and using contractors. In BNFL’s case there had been pressure to delayer and reduce staff”. However, he said the experience was the same in the public and private sectors. “In the nuclear industry there is no significant difference between the public and private sectors. British Energy refers to what the City will say, and questions more, but there is not a significant challenge. Yet.” To prepare for changes in the industry Williams said the NII had undergone internal reorganisation. It was assessing demands and increasing the number of inspectors via a recruitment campaign. In addition, a new condition (Condition 36), added to all site licences in August 1999, would help the NII to control the changes. The new condition requires licensees to make or implement adequate arrangements to control any change to its organisational structure or resources that could affect the safety of their sites. Nevertheless, Williams said, it was clear that the general pressure in the industry was economic pressure.

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