Britain’s nuclear legacy gets a benefactor

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has announced a new approach to the clean up of the legacy created by the early years of Britain’s military and civil nuclear programmes.

A Liabilities Management Authority (LMA) will be established to take on responsibility for most of the UK’s public sector civil nuclear liabilities on behalf of the government.

The LMA will be responsible for the government’s interest in the management of public sector civil nuclear liabilities. On behalf of the government the LMA will take on responsibility for most of BNFL’s liabilities and assets as well as those of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

The LMA will work in partnership with site licensees, initially the UKAEA and BNFL, and the safety, security and environment regulators to achieve the most effective and safe means of discharging the liabilities.

As part of its legacy management activities over the past 18 months BNFL has been reviewing its approach to tackling its historic nuclear wastes, arising from the early years of the nuclear programme. Yesterday it announced a new strategy for dealing with these, which has led to an increase in the estimated cost to BNFL of discharging its liabilities of £1.9 billion.

As a result of this increase BNFL’s long term liabilities are estimated to exceed its assets. The proposals outlined for restructuring the industry more broadly will address this. H M Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations has assured government that BNFL’s financial position will have no impact on the safety of BNFL’s operations.

Creation of the LMA, removing responsibility for BNFL’s liabilities and transferring this responsibility and associated assets to the LMA, will require primary legislation.

According to a statement a Bill for this purpose will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity. In the interim a White Paper will be published in the spring of 2002 covering the government’s proposals for the management of UK public sector civil nuclear liabilities.