Lancashire nuclear fuel workers lobby MPs to save British jobs

Nuclear fuel workers from Lancashire met MPs at Westminster to urge action to support the future of their industry.

By Tim Gavell
Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 9:26 am

Staff from Westinghouse's Springfields plant at Salwick are campaigning to get the Government to move forward with the next generation of nuclear fuel power plants after decades of inaction by successive administrations and some high profile plans which failed to come to fruition.

The meeting and a debate in Westminster Hall was introduced by Fylde MP Mark Menzies, in whose constituency, the factory lies.

He met union leaders and workers on College Green ahead of the debate and said decisive action was needed now to save jobs which would be hard to replace.

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Fylde MP Mark Menzies with nuclear fuels staff from Springfields at College Green Westminster

He said: "This really is an urgent situation. Decisive action needed at the earliest opportunity. To stall further will see irreplaceable skills lost and facilities closed.

"There is a world class skills base at the site with plenty of opportunities on the horizon, particularly from the latter part of the decade and the Government needs to take a long-term view of this industry.

“We are also waiting on decisions from Government over the next generation of reactors, the SMR fleet, with Sizewell C and other proposals still to be approved. Construction will take several years, meaning a lengthy gap until Springfields manufactured fuel will be in use.

"With no similar facility existing in the UK, these skills will be virtually impossible to replace. If those skills are lost, the UK would have to rely on nuclear fuel; manufactured abroad, reducing energy security."

Unions are warning that without new power stations being ordered, jobs will be lost to the industry

The Prospect and Unite unions said that Springfields was the UK’s only facility suitable for making fuel for nuclear power generation and have warned that a series of redundancies at the facility between Preston and Blackpool risks leaving the facility with a critical shortage of skills.

In April this year, Springfields announced a further 120 redundancies as a result of this situation.

They said that while Salwick manufactures nuclear fuel mainly for the UK Advanced Gas cooled Reactors, the facility also manufactures other fuel types and has the capability to adapt to future fuelling requirements.

It added that the announcement by EDF Energy last year to bring forward the closure of Hunterston nuclear power station by January 2022; the June announcement that Dungeness B will move into defueling now rather than in 2028, and the further significant and credible risk that other EDF AGR nuclear stations will follow suit, will have a devastating impact on the UK nuclear fuel supply chain.

It warned that the resulting gap between the previous fleet of nuclear reactors closing, and any new build facilities opening will cause a protracting slump in demand for fuel from Springfields. This places into immediate jeopardy the future of Springfields Fuels and some 2,000 jobs in the region along with the 800 at Springfields.

Glyn Russell, Prospect union convener at Springfields, said: “We went to Parliament to highlight the importance of protecting Springfields jobs and skills, both to the local area and for the country’s net zero ambitions.

“It’s great to have the support of Conservative and Labour MPs. What we need is for the government to get on with a programme of new nuclear power generation and guarantee the fuel for those reactors will be made at Springfields.

"We also need a plan to maintain our jobs while Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors are being run down and before the new generation comes on line. If we lose these jobs now we will not be able to meet our future obligations and will be reliant on insecure supply from overseas.”

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Springfields is the only site in the UK capable of fulfilling the country’s nuclear fuel requirements. If the nation is to have an independent and secure supply of nuclear energy, government must ensure that Springfields and the countless specialist jobs that depend on it are supported.

“This is not just a matter of the UK’s sovereign ability to preserve energy security, it is also crucial to tackling the climate crisis. Nuclear energy is a key component in achieving net zero by 2050."

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