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British Nuclear Fuels Limited

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British Nuclear Fuels Limited

British Nuclear Fuels Limited
Industry Nuclear
Fate Broken up
Founded 1971
Defunct 2009
Headquarters United Kingdom
Parent UK Government

British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) was a nuclear energy and fuels company owned by the UK Government. It was a former manufacturer and transporter of nuclear fuel (notably MOX), ran reactors, generated and sold electricity, reprocessed and managed spent fuel (mainly at Sellafield), and decommissioned nuclear plants and other similar facilities.

Until 2003 its headquarters were based at Risley, near Warrington, England. BNFL's headquarters were then moved to Daresbury Park industrial estate, also near Warrington.

On 1 April 2005, BNFL formed a new holding company, and started a rigorous restructuring process which would transfer or sell most of its entire domain, divisions. In 2005, it transferred all of its nuclear sites to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It then sold its Westinghouse Electric Company subsidiary in February 2006. Later, BNFL sold the separate companies that made up its major subsidiary, British Nuclear Group. By May 2009, BNFL had completed the sales of all its assets and had no remaining operational activities or businesses.

BNFL continued to exist only as a legal entity to meet all pension liabilities and any obligations arising from disposal programmes. However, on 14 October 2010, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude announced that BNFL would be abolished along with a number of other government organisations.[1]


British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) was set up in February 1971 from the demerger of the production division of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). In 1984 BNFL became a public limited company as British Nuclear Fuels plc, wholly owned by the UK government.

Under the leadership of Christopher Harding, BNFL changed. As chairman of British Nuclear Fuels, which ran the Windscale plant, he renamed it Sellafield, and, to general astonishment, decreed that instead of sullenly turning its back to the public, it should welcome them with open arms. He did the unthinkable: he opened a visitor centre.


US subsidiary BNFL Inc was established in 1990 and specialised in decontamination and decommissioning of nuclear sites.

In 1996 the UK's eight most advanced nuclear plants, seven Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor (AGR) and one Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) were privatised as British Energy, raising £2.1 billion.[2] The oldest reactors, the Magnox sites, were not attractive for commercial operations and remained in public ownership as Magnox Electric. On 30 January 1998 Magnox Electric was merged into BNFL as BNFL Magnox Generation.

In 1999 BNFL acquired Westinghouse Electric Company, the commercial nuclear power businesses of CBS (Westinghouse acquired CBS in 1995 and reoriented itself as a broadcaster), for $1.1 billion. Westinghouse's businesses are fuel manufacture, decommissioning of nuclear sites and reactor design, construction and servicing.[3]

In 2000 BNFL purchased the nuclear businesses of ABB for £300 million. This company, which was merged into Westinghouse, had nuclear interests in the United States, Europe and Asia.[4]

In January 2003 the research and development arm of BNFL was relaunched as Nuclear Sciences and Technology Services (NSTS).


On 1 April 2005 the company was reorganised as part of the restructuring of the wider nuclear industry. British Nuclear Fuels plc became British Nuclear Group (BNG) and a new holding company was established and adopted the British Nuclear Fuels plc name.[5] This new BNFL operated largely through its major subsidiaries of Westinghouse and BNG as well as Nexia Solutions, its commercial nuclear technology business formed out of NSTS.[6]

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) was established on 1 April 2005 and took ownership of all of BNFL's nuclear sites, including Sellafield. The NDA then opened up the decommissioning of the different sites to tender in order to drive down costs. BNFL became one of a number of decommissioning contractors through BNG. BNFL's nuclear waste transfer companies, Direct Rail Services and International Nuclear Services, were also both transferred to the NDA.

On 19 April 2005 BNFL Inc was renamed BNG America and made a subsidiary of BNG.[7]

Sale of Westinghouse

In July 2005 BNFL confirmed it planned to sell Westinghouse, then estimated to be worth $1.8bn (£1bn). However the bid attracted interest from several companies, including Toshiba, General Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and when the Financial Times reported on 23 January 2006 that Toshiba had won the bid, it valued the company's offer at $5bn (£2.8bn). On 6 February 2006 Toshiba confirmed it was buying Westinghouse Electric Company for $5.4bn and announced it would sell a minority stake to investors.[3]

Break up of British Nuclear Group

On 3 February 2006 BNFL announced it had agreed to sell BNG America to Envirocare to form EnergySolutions.[8]

In March 2006 BNFL announced its intention to sell BNG. With the sale of Westinghouse, BNG America and BNG this was to effectively bring BNFL to an end. Mike Parker, CEO of BNFL, said: "By the end of 2007... there will be little need for the BNFL corporate centre from this time". [9] On 22 August 2006 BNFL announced that instead of selling BNG as a going concern it would instead sell it off piece by piece.[10]

In January 2007 BNFL announced that it would sell BNG's Magnox reactor sites operating business, Reactor Sites Management Company Ltd.[11] It was later sold in June 2007 along with its subsidiary that held the operating contracts with the NDA, Magnox Electric, to EnergySolutions.[12][13] All UK Magnox power stations are due cease operation by 2012.

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.[14]

BNG was renamed Sellafield Ltd and became the NDA's Site Licence Company (SLC) for the decommissoning contract at Sellafield. In November 2008 the NDA contracted the management of Sellafield Ltd to Nuclear Management Partners Ltd, a consortium of URS, AMEC and Areva.[15]

Formation of the National Nuclear Laboratory

In July 2006, the UK Government stated its intention to preserve and develop key research and development capabilities potentially as part of a National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL). In October 2006, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling confirmed the NNL would be formed out of Nexia Solutions and the British Technology Centre at Sellafield.[16] The NNL was launched in July 2008 as a Government Owned - Contractor Operated (GO-CO) business and managed by a consortium of Serco, Battelle and the University of Manchester.[17]

Final Disposals

Control of BNFL's one third stake in Urenco was transferred to the Shareholder Executive in April 2008 through Enrichment Holdings Ltd while the government explored the possibility of selling the stake.[18]

BNFL's one third stake of AWE Management Ltd was sold to Jacobs Engineering Group in December 2008.[19] AWE is responsible for the support and manufacturing of the UK's nuclear deterrent.

As BNFL was wound down it was converted back to a private limited company on 31 December 2008 and regained its original name, British Nuclear Fuels Limited.[20] The final sale transactions for BNFL's former businesses were completed in May 2009.


BNFL formerly had operations at 18 sites in the UK:

Visual identity

The current graphic identity, including the BNFL logotype, was created in 1996 by Lloyd Northover, the British design consultancy founded by John Lloyd and Jim Northover.

See also


External links

  • BNFL
  • National Nuclear Laboratory
  • Sellafield awaits nuclear power's rebirth, by Jorn Madslien, BBC News
  •, by Jorn Madslien, BBC News
  • The sale of Britain's nuclear giant, by Jorn Madslien, BBC News
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