BNFL reaches its end

15 October 2010

British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) is to be finally abolished, said the UK government as it carried out a major cull of public bodies.

The former industrial giant began life in 1971 and developed 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."  


Sellafield from the visitor's centre
The view from the Sellafield visitors centre


However, from 2002 the UK government began to restructure its nuclear industry towards decommissioning and it was decided to reduce the scope of national assets would be controlled by the state. What followed was the transfer of national facilities - and their clean-up liabilities - 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 program.

The decision to dissolve BNFL came with a money-saving purge of so-called 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 among these.

On 14 October, prime minister David Cameron's government announced the reform of 481 quangos. The decision was to "abolish" BNFL, "subject to transferring remaining assets and liabilities."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News 


BNFL's former businesses  
Science, technology and research work is now within the National Nuclear Laboratory, based at Sellafield.
Clean-up specialist British Nuclear Group Project Services was acquired by VT Group, itself part of Babcock International.
The reactor vendor Westinghouse is now owned by Toshiba, Shaw Group and Ishikawajima-Hariwa Heavy Industries. It also operates the Springfields fuel manufacturing site.
Sellafield assets such as the Thorp reprocessing plant, the mixed oxide fuel plant and the Calder Hall reactors are owned by the NDA. A parent body contract awarded to a consortium of Areva, URS and Amec sees those firms manage the site.
International Nuclear Services, now owned by the NDA, is responsible for the return of mixed oxide fuel and waste to reprocessing customers Its subsidiary Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd carries out the shipments.
US decommissioning business BNFL Inc changed its name to BNG America and was later bought by Envirocare to form Energy Solutions.
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.