British Nuclear Fuels Limited

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Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of Spinwatch.

British Nuclear Fuels plc was an international company, owned by the UK government.


British Nuclear Fuels plc was involved in all stages of the nuclear process, from designing reactors and manufacturing fuel, to decommissioning reactors and dealing with radioactive waste. [1]

It was originally called British Nuclear Fuels Limited, set up by the government in 1971 as a spin-off from UKAEA and became a public limited company in 1984, called British Nuclear Fuels plc. It had operations at 18 sites in the UK. From 2005, it became a holding company for British Nuclear Group (BNG), Nexia Solutions and Westinghouse,[2] [3] which were later divided up and sold off, making the company defunct by 2009.


In 2005 BNFL's chairman predicted that BNFL was unlikely to exist within five years. [4]

In February 2006, BNFL sold its US nuclear clean-up division, BNG America, for £51m ($91m) to the Utah-based company Energy Solutions. [5]

The deal was quickly followed by BNFL's sale of its US power plant arm Westinghouse to the Japanese electronic giant Toshiba for £3.1bn ($5.4bn). Westinghouse controls Britain's only nuclear fuel manufacturing site, Springfield Fuels. [6][7] BNG Project Services, BNG's specialist nuclear consulting business, was sold in January 2008 to VT Group, which was itself later acquired in 2010 by Babcock International Group.

BNFL's ultimate plan was said to include selling off the British Nuclear Group, leaving it with a stake in the uranium-enrichment firm Urenco and research firm Nexia Solutions.[8]

Closing down the debate

Documents obtained in 2006 under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that BNFL wanted "to restrict the scope of local planning inquiries", according to The Guardian newspaper. Issues such as safety, security and environmental impact would not be discussed at public inquiries, but behind closed doors. [9]

The documents show that BNFL believes the only way to guarantee that new power stations open on schedule is to fast-track the planning process by pre-licensing reactors before sites are selected. "Investment in this phase has immense leverage over subsequent phases" say the documents. "For example, it should enable a public inquiry to be assured that all safety and environmental issues have been satisfactorily addressed, enabling it to focus on local issues." [10]

PR and lobbying firms

In the late 1990s and up until 2002, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs was the main PR company providing strategic corporate communications advice. Bernard Ingham, Director of SONE and Margaret Thatcher's former Chief Press Secretary, also provided advice during the 1990s. [11]

BNFL worked hard to reposition nuclear power as a green fuel (see below). As the Government's Energy Review was launched, BNFL Chairman Gordon Campbell stated: 'Old prejudices about the cost of nuclear power, the handling of waste, and safety concerns need to be reviewed objectively and set against the world's desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions'. [12]

Other PR companies retained:

The nuclear MP

Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland - a constituency that includes Sellafield - was BNFL's press officer for four years. His predecessor as MP for Copeland, Jack Cunningham, was an outspoken supporter of BNFL and nuclear power.

Spinning nuclear - it's safe, secure, cheap and climate friendly

Weber Shandwick worked on a "Nuclear New Build strategy for BNFL - See Weber Shandwick. Part of the strategy was to sell nuclear as clean, cheap and secure. For example, in December 2004, Weber wrote a document “The Case for Nuclear Energy”, which reiterated the major themes that the nuclear industry used to push for a revival – climate change and energy security. Nuclear's main selling points are:

  • Nuclear energy can be competitive with gas, and may in the future be the cheapest form of electricity;
  • Nuclear power is essential in combating CO2 emissions;
  • Nuclear power offers substantial security of supply benefits;
  • Nuclear plants can be built to time and cost;
  • Nuclear waste issues should not be a barrier to building new stations;
  • The track record of safety and security in the nuclear industry is excellent;
  • The nuclear industry plays a key role in the UK economy;
  • The need for Government action to keep the nuclear option open is increasingly urgent;
  • Action needed now by Government [16]

BNFL company scoops gold at PR event

British Nuclear Group won Gold at the 2005 North West Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Pride awards in Manchester for its "Taking the Time to Listen and Act" PR campaign. The stakeholder dialogue campaign was designed to "address international concern regarding discharges of Technetium 99 from Sellafield". [17]

In breach of EU standards

In February 2006 the European Commission formally issued a warning against what it termed "British Nuclear Group Sellafield (BNG SL)". According to the Commission: "Under the Euratom Treaty, the European Commission has the task of ensuring that accounting and administrative procedures are in place to ensure that nuclear materials in possession of companies operating nuclear facilities in the EU are not diverted from the peaceful uses for which they have been declared.

The Commission has found that the accounting and reporting procedures presently in place at BNG SL do not fully meet Euratom standards. This decision results from a series of inspections carried out by Commission inspectors at the Sellafield plant". [18]

Who ran BNFL?

BNFL's website contained the following profiles of BNFL's executives in 2006: [19]

  • Joe Darby, non-executive director - Darby is a non-executive director of John Mowlem & Company plc, the UK construction services company, which has interests in the nuclear industry. Formerly deputy chairman of oil firm LASMO plc.
  • Bill Lowther CBE, non-executive director - former director general of UCB Films plc.

Corporate memberships

External resources

See relevant SourceWatch page British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL)


  1. BNFL website, undated, accessed February 2006.
  2. DTI website: Managing the nuclear legacy, undated, accessed February 2006.
  3. BNFL website, undated, accessed February 2006.
  4. Christopher Hope 'BNFL five years from extinction, says chief;, ''Daily Telegraph'', 6 December 2005.
  5. BNFL press release: 'BNFL announces sale of BNG America', 2 February, 2006.
  6. BNFL press release 'BNFL, Toshiba Agree to Sale of Westinghouse', 6 February, 2006.
  7. "Toshiba buys BNFL firm for $5.4bn". BBC. 2006-02-06.
  8. No named author, 'BNFL agrees to sell nuclear clean-up unit', Reuters, 3 February, 2006.
  9. David Adam, 'Next generation of nuclear reactors may be fast tracked', The Guardian, 21 January, 2006.
  10. David Adam, 'Next generation of nuclear reactors may be fast tracked', The Guardian, 21 January, 2006.
  11. Tom Wilkie, "Labour angered over Ingham consultancy", The Independent, unavailable online, 30 December, 1991.
  12. BNFL statement 'Future of nuclear energy', undated, accessed February, 2006.
  13. Association of Professional Political Consultants: Register of members and clients Dec 04-May 05 (pdf file) and Register of members and clients June-Nov 05 (pdf file).
  14. BNFL press contacts, undated, accessed February, 2006.
  15. Chris Grimshaw, "It's official: no dark Machiavellian conspiracy for new nuclear power", Corporate Watch newsletter, issue 21, December, 2004.
  16. The Case for Nuclear, Email Sent from Weber Shandwick to BNFL, 15 December, 2004.
  17. BNG news feature 'British Nuclear Group stakeholder relations gain recognition', 19 January, 2006.
  18. European Commission Website, accessed February, 2006.
  19. BNFL's website: 'Meet our leaders', undated, accessed February 2006.
  20. factsheet 'National Legal Center for the Public Interest', undated, accessed February, 2006.