It is fair to say that nuclear power has been in the doldrums over the past 20 years, with no new power stations built since Sizewell B in 1995.
But now with the nation’s legally binding commitments to cutting greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, and the need to keep our lights on with mix of energy sources, Britain is once again planning a nuclear future.
In Lancashire, thousands of jobs rely on the nuclear industry and have been carrying on regardless despite lack of appetite from consecutive governments for atomic energy following worries over dealing with nuclear waste and a series of high-profile accidents around the world.
Safety standards have been tightened and new technology could produce much more energy than the old reactors of the past.
Heysham’s two EDF-owned advanced gas cooled reactors provide not only of energy, for around four million homes, but also employment for 1,500. That’s a yearly wage bill of £80m with much of that money going into our local economy.
Both have been given extensions to their lifespan. Heysham 1 is due to shut down in 2024 and its younger sister reactor in 2030.
Our continuing investment, our expertise and the professional relationship we have with the safety regulator means we can safely prolong the operating life of our nuclear power stations
EDF said the decision followed “extensive technical and safety reviews”.
Chief executive Vincent de Rivaz said: “Our continuing investment, our expertise and the professional relationship we have with the safety regulator means we can safely prolong the operating life of our nuclear power stations.
“Their excellent output shows that reliability is improving whilst their safety and environmental performance is higher than ever.”
The Government has plans on the back burner for a third reactor at Heysham with former Prime Minister David Cameron saying in November 2015 that it would be a case of when not if.
The Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing plant at Salwick employs around 1,000 people directly, supplying fuel rods to reactors at home and abroad.
Further north, the huge Sellafield site, home to the world’s first ever commercial nuclear power station, Calder Hall, is set to become a new focus for power with the Moorside project which will generate 3.8 GW for the country from three AP1000 pressurised water reactors. Questions currently hang over the project after financial problems at the parent company Toshiba but other investors are poised to replace them.
Nick Jones from Westinghouse, which owns the Springfields factory said: “Lancashire has been at the heart of the nuclear industry for over 70 years since the Springfields site near Preston became the UK’s nuclear fuel manufacturing site in 1946.
“Today the site is operated by Westinghouse Electric Company. Westinghouse manages its UK business from the Springfields nuclear licenced site, where more than 1,000 people are directly employed and a further 890 indirectly-employed in the UK supply chain, which benefits from over £100m per year from Westinghouse’s operations.”
He said the Moorside project would create up to 21,000 UK jobs over the project’s lifetime.
But even after that, more local jobs could be safeguarded with a new project designed to put Britain back at the forefront of nuclear power and able to sell technology around the world.
He said: “In addition to the AP1000 programme, Westinghouse is also fully committed to partnering with the UK Government to deliver the Westinghouse Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology.
“This would move the UK from ‘Buyer to Global Provider of SMR Technology’. The company’s unique proposal builds on a UK-based shared design and development model.
“Fuel for the AP1000 and any Westinghouse SMR reactors built in the UK would be made at Springfields, safeguarding hundreds of jobs.
“Westinghouse believes that nuclear energy plays a key role in the supply of safe, clean and reliable electricity, and the company is proud to be based in Lancashire where it has a highly skilled and efficient workforce.”
The Springfields site is also home to a National Nuclear Laboratory facility which provides high quality research careers and the plant plays a leading role in training the engineers of the future in the county with its apprenticeship schemes.
“The Fylde Coast is a real hot bed of energy experts”
Preston entrepreneur Simon Rigby who was a founder of Utilities group Spice in 1996 – when Yorkshire Electricity decided to spin off its services arm where he worked as an accountant – said he was delighted with the way the sector had developed in Lancashire.
He went on to buy St Annes-based Inenco in 2006 and the company developed into one of the leading Third Party Intermediary companies. He said: “When I ran Spice bought Inenco (then an exclusively St Annes based business) it was the fifth largest TPI in the UK and Chris Lee, Inencos MD,and I took it to number one in Europe.
“Until recently it was fairly easy to set up your own TPI and over the years Inenco had spawned dozens and dozens of spin offs some which have grown to good sized business and in turn spun off other new start-ups.
“Consequently the Fylde Coast is a real hot bed of energy experts.”
Andy Pilley, chairman of local utilities firm British Energy Supplies (BES) added: “I was working in Manchester selling to small and medium sized enterprises when the Enron financial scandal hit our company. I had around 25 salesmen out in the filed with customers ready but suddenly nothing to sell. So I set up on my own here as I had had high level contact with suppliers.
“I ended up working from 6am to midnight, which obviously could not go on so I recruited my sister who is the operations expert and it grew from there.”
BES Group has grown into a company with a turnover in excess of £100m a year and more than 600 staff.
The energy business has enable Mr Pilley to branch out into energy supply and card services as well as supporting Fleetwood Town FC’s rise in the football league. He said without the commercial energy sector there would be no stadium and top class training facilities and is just one way the sector benefits the local community.
“The thing about energy is that it is an absolute necessity. The business does not fall away when times are tough, it makes people think even more about getting the best deal for their energy.
“It is a way for people to ensure their business fulfils its potential.
“Our new Card Saver business is very exciting and could be as big as the energy business eventually. We are edging ever closer to the cashless society.”
He said the Fylde Coast specialises in the commercial energy sector in its various forms.
He added: “It is a sector that people should be aiming to get into because it is going to be around for a very long time.”