BNFL under attack over Westinghouse sale

BNFL has announced the sale of its US-based subsidiary Westinghouse, the nuclear power station construction and services business.

While the sale is likely to raise around £1bn for the taxpayer, it has been criticised by some in the industry over its timing, amid claims that it will deprive the UK of expertise at a time when public opinion is shifting towards nuclear power and other countries are considering building new nuclear stations.

The union Prospect, representing 6,000 engineers, scientists and managers at Sellafield and the company’s 21 other sites, warned that a break-up of BNFL would be disadvantageous for the UK nuclear industry, setting it back years and many billions of pounds. Prospect’s assistant general secretary Dai Hudd claimed that the timing was ‘bizarre’ — just as nuclear power was rising up the agenda to answer carbon emission problems, the UK decided to sell off its ‘chief reservoir of new-build expertise.’

‘It was this government which approved the company’s strategy to purchase Westinghouse,’ he said. ‘It clearly recognised its importance to the future of the industry in the UK, not to realise a quick buck like any market speculator. This is short-termism at its worst.’

Westinghouse is involved in nuclear power construction in the US and had been bidding for contracts to build new power facilities in China. It is believed to be the target of US private equity firms.

BNFL has announced that it cut losses by 50 per cent from £283m to £144m in the year to March 31, 2004. Turnover stood at £2.36bn, up from £2.32bn.