The UK government has formally announced its plan to partially privatize British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL). In establishing a public private partnership (PPP), 49 per cent of the shares will be floated, probably in 2001, with the government retaining a 51 per cent controlling share. The sale should raise £1.5 billion. Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said a PPP: “Would be good for the company, the employees, the taxpayer and the wider community.” BNFL has welcomed the decision.

“Our aim is to become the leading global nuclear business, and I believe that a successful PPP will be a major milestone in our journey to achieve that goal,” said BNFL chief executive John Taylor. “The acquisition of Westinghouse’s global nuclear business, coupled with recent commercial successes in the USA, Europe and Asia, especially in the area of nuclear clean-up, have transformed our business over the last couple of years. PPP will provide us with even greater momentum as we move towards our aim of becoming a world class company.” The partial privatization of BNFL will see nuclear assets, including the UK’s first generation Magnox stations, in private hands.

BNFL completed the purchase of the Westinghouse nuclear businesses in March of this year for £600 million. A third of the company’s turnover now comes from Westinghouse’s fuel manufacture and reactor servicing business; a quarter of turnover is a result of reprocessing activities at Sellafield; electricity generated in the Magnox stations account for another quarter; the rest comes from waste management and decommissioning work, which is likely to grow significantly over the next few years.

“BNFL today is not the historical BNFL,” said Taylor. “This is a £2 billion company with 50 per cent of its business overseas.” Meanwhile, a Greenpeace demonstration failed to prevent the departure of two ships that will carry the first MOx cargoes from Cumbria. The start of the journey was delayed for several hours when Greenpeace demonstrators, towing an effigy of a white elephant, blocked the harbour at Barrow on 19 July.