• Kyodo

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Executives from British Nuclear Fuels PLC, which was embroiled in a fuel falsification scandal last year, will travel to Japan next week in a bid to drum up new orders and regain the trust of Japanese customers, BNFL said Monday.

The company believes that without Japanese contracts, BNFL’s mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel business is doomed.

BNFL, which is desperate to restore its credibility in Japan, hopes the trip by BNFL executives and trade union officials will “lay the foundations” for new orders, a company spokeswoman said.

The visit will start Monday.

The MOX trade between Britain and Japan stopped last year after it was disclosed that BNFL workers in Sellafield, northwest England, falsified quality assurance data on two consignments of fuel ordered by Kansai Electric Power Co.

The falsification was first revealed last September, and then expanded in December.

Since the revelations, BNFL has agreed to take back the September consignment, which had been shipped to Japan.

“The visit is part of our process of rebuilding customer confidence and re-establishing BNFL as a credible MOX fuel supplier,” a BNFL spokeswoman said.

“The delegation will be laying the foundations for the future rather than actually coming home with signed and sealed contracts.”

She said the talks would involve existing reprocessing customers, including Kepco, adding that Japanese nuclear plant operators remain committed to the idea of using spent nuclear fuel to create MOX.

The trade union officials who will be traveling to Japan in the BNFL delegation “will have a different message . . . They will be stressing how important the MOX industry is for the local community around Sellafield,” the BNFL spokeswoman said.

There are currently no MOX contracts between BNFL and any Japanese utility.

Last week, BNFL Chief Executive Norman Askew said Japan was central to his company getting permission from the British government to start operating the company’s new purpose-built MOX plant at Sellafield.

“Without Japanese orders, we cannot justify opening the MOX plant,” Askew told The Independent newspaper. “We have not time to finesse this: we have until about next January or February to convince the Japanese, otherwise we shall have to abandon the project.”

His comments followed the publication of disastrous results for the 1999-2000 financial year, which saw BNFL make a loss of 337 million British pounds (50.5 billion yen).

The results also showed the MOX incident cost the state-owned company 113 million British pounds (17.3 billion yen) — 40 million British pounds (6.1 billion yen) in compensation for Kepco and 73 million British pounds (11.2 billion yen) for bringing back the tainted shipment of MOX fuel.

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