Jobs face the axe at Lancashire's key nuclear fuels plant

Around 120 jobs may be under threat at Lancashire's nuclear fuels plant, as unions blame the government for dragging its feet on building new nuclear power stations.

Monday, 26th April 2021, 1:52 pm

Trade unions have warned that the possible redundancies at Springfields Fuels Ltd, the UK’s only nuclear fuel manufacturing facility, risk not only the future of the Salwick site but the UK’s drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Prospect and Unite unions said some Springfields staff have been told there are to be 120 redundancies, which the unions warn risks hollowing out the skills base at the site which employs around 700, and supports around 4,000 jobs in the wider supply chain.

Fylde's Conservative MP Mark Menzies said the site should get the contracts for all UK future reactor fuel production. It is understood that the company is looking for voluntary redundancies.

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The hi-tech Oxide Fuels Complex at the Springfields site in Salwick

The unions said around 32 per cent of all low carbon energy generated in the UK comes from fuel manufactured at Springfields, and the plant, owned by US firm Westinghouse, would be critical to the next generation of nuclear power stations promised by the government in the 10 Point Plan for Net Zero published last year.

In the Nuclear Sector Deal published in 2018, they said the government claimed: “The government recognises the strategic national importance of maintaining its fuel capabilities and will work with UK nuclear fuel industry to ensure continued, commercial operation of these facilities to deliver future energy security as well as ensuring the UK nuclear fuel industry continues to deliver long-term UK economic benefit”.

However, the unions said despite this, the government continue to drag its feet over agreeing contracts for new nuclear facilities, with only one currently under construction at Hinkley Point Somerset. The result, unions say, is a gap in the demand for nuclear fuel which has led to the job losses at Springfields.

Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said: “This news is a hammer blow not only to the workforce at Springfields and the local economy in Lancashire but to our chances of achieving Net Zero.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies who is lobbying for the Springfields site

“Springfields is a national success story and should be at the heart of both the drive for Net Zero and the levelling up agenda, but instead years of indecision and short-termism have put the whole future of nuclear fuel manufacturing at risk. It is time for government to finally take this issue seriously, and work with unions and other stakeholders to save the site, the jobs, and the future of this strategically critical industry.”

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “The loss of 120 jobs at the successful Springfields Fuels facility near Preston is to be strongly deplored and we will be asking the company for the business rationale behind this decision. There is strong cross-party support in Lancashire that these highly skilled jobs can’t be lost – as once they are gone, they could be lost forever to the long-term detriment of the UK economy.

“The threat to these jobs reinforces the need for the government to urgently bring forward its ‘mixed’ energy policy, including carbon-free nuclear, as a cornerstone of the much-heralded industrial strategy for the post-Brexit, post-Covid UK economy. Such a policy would support the government’s speeded-up proposal to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035.”

A spokesman for Westinghouse said: “Springfields is working closely with the UK government to ensure the site is able to maintain capabilities and competitiveness as we look to the future.”

Unite's Gail Cartmail

Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “I have been engaging with Springfields for a long time. Behind every job loss number is a person and I hope the firm is doing everything it can to ensure there are no compulsory redundancies.

“The Government is committed to a new generation of reactors but I want to see, as I have already told ministers, contracts drawn up in such a way that the outstanding workers at Springfields get the rewards by supplying the fuel for them.

“I have always supported the Springfields site and it is vital we retain a skilled workforce in this sector. In recent months I met and discussed Springfields with the Secretary of State at BEIS, and also the American Ambassador. I am meeting with Westinghouse again next week and will continue working with all interested parties, including the Government and unions, to bring forward a new generation of nuclear reactors.”