Union leader backs staff in nuclear sell-off

Union leader backs staff in nuclear sell-off

Angry Prospect reps at British Nuclear Fuels have asked union General Secretary Paul Noon to tell government ministers and the BNFL board that they will do everything necessary to protect their members’ interests.

The strength of feeling among scientists and engineers at BNFL was outlined during a meeting this morning at the Sellafield reprocessing plant where members and representatives at the site expressed their concerns over last week’s announcement that BNFL plans to sell off the British Nuclear Group.

Addressing the meeting, Noon said that the Prospect position would be practical and pragmatic rather than ideological. "The key tests for us will be what will provide the best future for safety, security, the environment and long-term energy policy, and for our members and the communities in which they live.

"From our point of view we would not have wished to start from this position, particularly so soon after the creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency and British Nuclear Group. It is yet another unwelcome upheaval that will cause confusion for our members over their futures and that of the organisation they work for."

Although he did not see the private sector as intrinsically unsafe, Noon stressed that the way in which any private sector involvement is extended must pay regard to the fundamental importance of safety and protecting the environment.

"There can be no Hatfield at Sellafield," he said, adding that Prospect would be seeking the strongest possible guarantees that the intrusion of the profit motive would not affect safety or security standards, particularly on the issue of foreign control. "The government cannot walk away from the nuclear industry and must maintain a long-term interest in the highest standards."

Noon also criticised the handling of the announcement, viewed by many staff as a U-turn by the government and the BNFL board, and the lack of full consultation with staff and unions at every stage of the process. Now, however, Prospect would be seeking cast-iron legally enforceable guarantees to preserve members’ pensions and other conditions.

In terms of any potential bidders, Noon said the union would be seeking early engagement with any private sector bidders. "We will be taking this message to the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity."