Republican News · Thursday 06 April 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Sinn Féin reveals secret Sellafield report

A Sinn Féin Councillor has revealed the contents of an internal document prepared for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), which demonstrates that the BNFL approach to its current problems prioritises media spin over health and safety issues.

The leak of the document to Louth County Councillor Arthur Morgan will prove highly embarrassing to BNFL. In the document BNFL acknowledges that it has a ``crisis of confidence'' given recent damge to its credibility. Arthur Morgan has said that the document is is an accurate internal and independent report. He says that the fact that it was carried out not by health and safety experts or by scientists but by high profile PR people is indicative of BNFL's approach to its operations to date.

Morgan, who visited a number of villages close to Sellafield as part of a Sinn Féin delegation to the area last week, said the honest assessment in the document is ``damning in the extreme''.

One paragraph of the document states: ``BNFL is in crisis - a crisis of confidence affecting every aspect of the company.

``This crisis of confidence is shared by most, if not all, the company's stakeholders. Key customers, the DTI and many politicians, have lost confidence with senior management. Internally, employees at Sellafield have lost confidence in corporate mangement.

``In addition, the media is harshly critical of the company and its senior management and has raised, along with other audiences and observers, a number of major issues.

``Yet despite this, we have formed the impression that the seriousness of the situation has not hit home within the company. Our interpretation of this is that BNFL has become so used to taking `hits' from the outside world that its staff and management have become `shell-shocked' and are unable to grasp fully the gravity of the situation.''

The eight-page document, titled Reputation and Recovery, was prepared by communications consultants Bell Pottinger on 22 February, just four days after the British Nuclear Fuels Inspectorate published reports which found there was systematic mismanagement failures in BNFL and outlined how quality tests had been falsified.

News that the document had been leaked emerged after BNFL Chairperson Hugh Collum conceded before a House of Commons committee that the planned privatisation of BNFL would have to be delayed because of the uncertainty surrounding its future, with countries including Ireland, Denmark, Japan and Germany raising questions over its safety record.

Collum basically regurgitated the findings of the report when he addressed the Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry. The British government has also taken its policy cue from the experts - by announcing the delay of part privatisation of BNFL.

Arthur Morgan says that the issue should not be treated as a focus for media spin: ``This is a life and death issue, especially on the east coast of Ireland.''

Despite the fact that the employment of a PR comany strongly indicated a tendency to engage in cosmetics as opposed to thoroughgoing findings, Morgan said of the report: ``I am delighted to see in writing and from an internal document that the mangement of BNFL are questioning their own future.''

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