BNFL makes safety and management changes in bid to smooth privatisation plans

British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) is to replace nine directors and take steps to improve safety at its Sellafield site . The changes, which are intended to smooth the way for plans to partially privatise the company, come after the publication of three damning reports by the Government's nuclear safety watchdog.

BNFL’s response to the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate (NII) Reports includes the replacement of board members, the recruitment of 70 new staff (including the creation of new senior management positions), improvements to safety systems and the streamlining of the company’s management and organisational structure.

BNFL Chairman Hugh Collum said the changes mark a new beginning for the company after a scandal over irregularities in safety data led to the suspension of the British nuclear fuel reprocessor’s only Japanese contract (see related story) and the resignation of BNFL’s former CEO, John Taylor (see related story). “This is an important milestone for BNFL,” Collum said. “I am confident that with the new management team led by Norman Askew, and the changes which today’s announcement herald, BNFL will move forward to a successful Public and Private Partnership”.

In February, the UK Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) NII published three reports concerning different aspects of BNFL’s operations at its Sellafield power station.

They concerned the Team Inspection of the control and supervision of operations at Sellafield, an investigation into the falsification of secondary quality data within the MOX Demonstration Facility (MDF) and an updated review of safety procedures in the storage of liquid high level waste.

NII officials concluded that the future structure of the company had to be simplified to make the chain of responsibility in terms of safety is perfectly clear.

In March, the UK’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) told a Parliamentary committee that partial privatisation of British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) would not pose a threat to safety provided an overly complicated company structure is avoided (see related story).

This week’s announcement from BNFL represents the company’s response to the Team Inspection report and to the investigation into the falsification of safety data in the MDF. BNFL’s formal response to the report on high level waste will be published in the summer.

Speaking at the launch of BNFL’s response to the reports, New Chief Executive Norman Askew pledged to deliver on all of their recommendations. “I will personally guarantee that each and every one of the HSE’s recommendations are met in full and that whatever resources necessary to achieve this are made available. To do otherwise is not an option. We have already completed a number of them and there are deadlines against every one where we still have more work to do.

“This has been a difficult time for BNFL. I do not underestimate the challenges but I am confident everyone in the company can rise to them. Our response to the two HSE reports, as well as the management changes we are announcing today, are a good beginning. However, follow through and implementation are vital. I am determined to implement these changes successfully to make a real and lasting reform of BNFL.”

The changes will start at the most senior level. The Director of Safety, David Coulston, Human Resources Director Roger Leek, and Finance Director Ross Chiese are all to leave “by mutual consent.” BNFL will also replace all six of its current Non-Executive Directors and set up of the role of Executive Director, Health, Safety and Environment. The new Executive Director will report to the Chief Executive and have direct access to the Board.

The company has also created the new post of Director of Operations at Sellafield, with responsibility for safety and operations across the entire site. BNFL says it will increase the number of staff at Sellafield, appoint a team of senior independent compliance inspectors, develop a peer review system with other nuclear chemical plant operators and create a new Safety Audit support team.

Meanwhile, the company will replace the previous ‘matrix management’ approach, where authority was shared between line and functional managers, restructuring the company into Business Groups under the control of four General Managers.

The General Managers will report to the Chief Executive. Each Manager will carry full line authority for all safety commercial, operational, environmental and financial aspects of the individual businesses within each Business Group. The four Business Groups are as follows:

  • fuel manufacture and reactor services. This business comprises the fuel and reactor services interests acquired last year as part of the Westinghouse transaction, BNFL’s UK fuel business based at Springfields and, on completion of the transaction, the ABB nuclear fuel and reactor services business
  • Magnox generation. The Magnox generation business has been established as a separate business group and will operate the eight Magnox nuclear power stations, as well as managing the decommissioning process at its other facilities. The Calder Hall Magnox reactor adjacent to the Sellafield Site will report to the new Magnox Generation Business Group, and not Sellafield, as before
  • spent fuel management. This group will encompass all the assets on the Sellafield site, excluding the Calder Hall reactor. It therefore reinforces the focus on managing Sellafield as a single site
  • nuclear decomissioning and clean-up. This group will act as a contractor to help implement clean-up and nuclear decommissioning around the world

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