BNFL’s announcement yesterday that the company’s chief executive Norman Askew is to leave the company in the summer at his own request has taken the nuclear industry by surprise. 60 year old Askew will stay in position until summer 2003, giving BNFL time to recruit a new chief executive.
Norman Askew, who had moved from Virginia Power in the US, took over the BNFL post in March 2000 at a time when the company was under intense government, customer, media and public scrutiny following Sellafield’s MOX fuel falsification scandal. With his initial role for BNFL clearly defined by the need to carry out a root and branch overhaul of the company’s structure and accountability, many high-ranking personnel within the company and its Board were moved out.
Within the company’s workforce, Askew is seen as a man with a down to earth and gritty determination to get things done. In the two years following his appointment, BNFL’s affairs and prospects are viewed by some as being significantly improved on those that existed pre-2000 under the stewardship of his predecessor John Taylor who ‘fell on his sword’ after taking the corporate blame for the falsification of the quality assurance data of MOX fuel shipped to Japan in 1999.
In the Company’s most recent Annual Report, Askew’s upbeat statements about BNFL’s prospects make his resignation somewhat puzzling, but in some respects provide a clue to his resignation. “ This is a time of major opportunity for BNFL, one that we are determined to seize. Building on the hard work and achievements of the past two years BNFL is now taking shape …” and “… without the contribution of nuclear power, this country cannot have a continued, secure, diverse and environmentally friendly energy supply.”
As a strong proponent of new nuclear build, Askew will no doubt be disappointed by the apparent brush-off for nuclear power believed to be contained in the UK Government’s Energy Review to be published soon. As an avid supporter of MOX fuel production at Sellafield, he will be equally disappointed that he has failed to secure any vital MOX fuel contracts from Japanese utilities despite numerous trips to the country for that purpose.
Speculation in the national press today implies that the current crisis about the future of BNFL’s major UK customer British Energy, and the imminent take over of BNFL’s liabilities and assets by the Government appointed Liabilities Management Agency may also have influenced Askew’s decision to resign. The Guardian newspaper quotes an insider as saying that ‘Askew is a big company man and was never going to be comfortable with having part of his business taken away and his responsibilities downgraded’.
A focus article in the December 2002 issue of BNFL’s glossy magazine ‘BNFL World’ said it was the challenge of the job that first attracted Askew to take up the poisened chalice that was BNFL. “Now he looks forward to the challenge of a world where BNFL operates in a more commercially competitive environment.”