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Mandelson puts nuclear business up for sale

Mandelson puts nuclear business up for sale

Government says privatisation of Atomic Energy Authority's nuclear decommissioning arm will help accelerate rollout of new reactors

The government yesterday announced it is to put the decommissioning and consultancy arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) up for sale in a move business secretary Peter Mandelson said would help improve the efficiency of the planned rollout of a new fleet of reactors.

The government said it would consider retaining a stake in the business, but is seeking a buyer for 100 per cent of the issued share capital with a view to completing a deal this summer.

UKAEA Ltd, the commercial arm of UKAEA, provides nuclear decommissioning, waste management and consultancy services to the UK nuclear industry. More than 200 staff who handle the decommissioning, waste management and clean-up of Dounreay fast breeder reactors and Magnox plants Harwell and Winfrith are expected to be part of the sale.

Peter Mandelson said the privatisation of the business would help improve services for the new generation of nuclear reactors that are being planned as part of the government's low-carbon strategy. "As the UK moves towards an era of nuclear new build, this sale will increase efficiency, competition and value for money for the taxpayer in the decommissioning and clean-up work of old nuclear power stations," he said.

Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Lady Judge, said that the sale would also help the business build a "larger and more broadly based nuclear services company" capable of tapping into a growing international market for decommissioning services.

However, the Conservatives questioned the motivation for the sale, suggesting it was being driven by a need to bolster public finances and could result in the government being held to "ransom" by the newly privatised company as it continues to work on existing projects to decommission the Dounreay, Harwell and Winfrith nuclear sites.

Bidders for the business are expected to include engineering firms such as Amec and Bechtel as well as a number of private equity investors. The successful bidder will be in a strong position to secure future clean-up contracts, although the government insisted they would have to go through open and competitive tender processes for any new deals.

The announcement was followed today by the unveiling of the line-up for the government's new Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board, which has been set up to scrutinise the financing plans for the decommissioning and clean-up of nuclear waste from new nuclear power stations and ensure that the taxpayer will not have to pick up any additional costs.

The independent board consists of Anne Baldock of law firm Allen and Overy LLP; Antony Osborn-Barker, global head of pensions at BNP Paribas; Simon Carroll of the National Centre for Biological Diversity at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; Dr Anthony White, MBE, senior adviser to Climate Change Capital; Simon O'Regan, global head of regions at accountancy firm Mercer; and Norman Harrison, chief executive of UKAEA. It will be chaired by Lady Balfour, who was appointed last year.

Energy and climate change minister Mike O'Brien said the board would play a key role in ensuring that the public is not left picking up the tab for nuclear clean-up projects.

"We have always said the taxpayer should be protected from the costs of decommissioning and waste disposal arising from new nuclear power stations," he said. "The NLFAB will be another piece of armour to ensure they get that protection."

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