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British Nuclear Fuels Limited

Volume 684: debated on Monday 17 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have for the future of British Nuclear Fuels Limited and its subsidiary companies.

My Lords, the 2003 joint strategy review of BNFL concluded that the company’s focus should be on UK nuclear clean-up with value being realised from its other businesses. Statements have been made to the House on the sale of Westinghouse to Toshiba and the future sale of British Nuclear Group. The future of Nexia Solutions is being considered, possibly as part of a national nuclear laboratory. There is not expected to be any significant role for the BNFL corporate centre beyond March 2008.

My Lords, that is a much more encouraging Answer than I expected. If, indeed, Nexia Solutions is to be regarded as part of the national nuclear laboratory of which we learnt only last week in the energy review paper, that offers some prospect of the Government retaining, as was stated in the paper, a substantial research and development capacity. But where stands then the statement made by the noble Lord’s colleague, Malcolm Wicks, only two months ago in the context of the sale of Westinghouse and British Nuclear Group? He said:

“In addition, we are considering the future of BNFL's research and development arm, Nexia Solutions”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/5/06; col. 1181.]

Has that potential sale been abandoned?

My Lords, as my honourable friend said, that was being considered. While, in the long term, the R&D required in any new nuclear build situation will come from the market, the Government are very concerned that in any transitional period the resource that is Nexia Solutions should be protected and should be available to the people where it is necessary.

My Lords, given BNFL's dubious previous safety record, will the Minister ensure that, whatever happens to the company and whoever takes it over, it will be fit for purpose in this Government's rush for new nuclear build for power stations? Will they ensure that the successor sees that safety is foremost?

My Lords, as I think I made clear in my original Answer, BNFL will almost certainly not exist beyond March 2008, and the various parts of it will go to other organisations.

My Lords, given the importance of BNFL to the economy of west Cumbria, can the Government assure us that BNFL and its owners will continue to honour their moral and legal obligations to the people who live in that part of England?

My Lords, I repeat that BNFL, as such, will not continue to exist. Many of the facilities that it owns will go to other bodies, and those bodies will look at the facilities in the light of their own objectives and take the appropriate action. In reality, I do not think that that will mean significant changes in the location of its activities.

My Lords, I remind the House of my involvement in the company that is the subject of the Question. Does my noble friend accept the allegation that the safety record of BNFL is as bad as was suggested, certainly compared with the rest of industry in Britain?

My Lords, it is always extremely difficult to give precise answers to those questions. However, the point is that this is not something that we need to go on being concerned about because, for very good reasons, the different parts of BNFL are being put under other bodies, most of which have good safety records.