Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick fears for future of Springfields nuclear fuel plant

Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick joined a Westminster Hall parliamentary debtate this week to raise concerns about the future of Springfields at Salwick and the UK nuclear power industry.

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 4:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 4:06 pm

Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick has highlighted fears over 120 potential job losses at the Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing plant at Salwick.

During an 85 minute Westminster Hall parliamentary debate he called on the Government to draw up a new mixed-energy policy, invest in the nuclear power industry and co-operate with China "to develop a carbon-free world".

Speaking in support of workers at the Springfields plant he highlighted the plant's local and national importance. He said: "Springfields is the UK’s only civil nuclear manufacturing site. It is a source of high-value employment in the north-west and is critical, along with aerospace, to the Lancashire economy moving towards a carbon-neutral future. That carbon-neutral future is at risk. There is a possibility of anything up to 120 redundancies at the site, which currently employs around 800 people and supports around 4,000 jobs across the wider supply chain."

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Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick

He continued: "Prospect and Unite, the trade unions, have since said that axing more than 10 roles would put that carbon-neutral future at serious risk. The Government urgently need to bring forward a mixed-energy policy, which should include carbon-free nuclear."

He told MPs: "The UK’s civil nuclear sector is among the most advanced in the world. Fuel production, generation, new build, and research through to decommissioning are key components of that. They provide tens of thousands of highly-skilled jobs, many in the north-west, particularly in Lancashire near my constituency of Preston, where fuel production is concentrated."

The MP said: "The UK currently has only one new power station under construction. Without rapid progress, we will have what is referred to as a nuclear gap. The nuclear gap currently means that the UK’s only domestic nuclear fuel manufacturer, Springfields in Lancashire, is facing a very uncertain future."

Sir Mark also highlighted the industry's role in the education sector saying: "Nuclear technology plays a part in many other areas, particularly in industry and higher education. Some universities across the UK are offering courses related to the nuclear industry, including my local university, the University of Central Lancashire. The National College for Nuclear is a cornerstone of the Government’s policy. Courses are being offered by five education providers, including two near my constituency at Lancaster and Morecambe College and the Lakes College in west Cumbria."

Calling for investment in the industry he said " A push for faster action on nuclear is needed, which includes bringing forward legislation for the new funding model. .A new nuclear sector deal was passed in the Government’s industrial strategy, and £200 million was promised by the Government to support the industry. However, since then, major events have put that future in doubt. In November 2018, there was a collapse of private sector support for a new plant at Moorside. In 2019, the Hitachi project at Wylfa in north Wales was suspended, which cast doubt on the future of nuclear plants per se. I know that the Government have consulted on alternative finance models for the new reactors and are currently in negotiations with EDF about a new nuclear plant, but it is essential that they give these industries that firm support—the hundreds of millions of pounds that was talked about originally—so that the jobs and technology remain in this country."

He told MPs: "The UK has something like 15 existing reactors, generating about a fifth of the electricity in the UK, with 13 others at various stages of construction or planning. The majority are due to reach the end of their operating lives and be shut down before 2030. In September 2016, the Government gave the final go-ahead to Hinckley Point C, which will be the first new nuclear power station for a generation. There is no doubt that we need new build if we are to have that carbon-free future."

He acknowledged: " :A number of factors have contributed to the decline in construction. Obviously, up-front costs are a big barrier, but once they are out of the way, it starts to look far more viable. The meltdown of Fukushima, the closure of THORP—the thermal oxide reprocessing plant—and nuclear waste disposal are all problems that are being overcome and, with further research and development, can be overcome, I think, in a reasonable time."

Sir Mark also highlighted the creation of an eight month pilot project at Springfields - an advanced nuclear skills and innovation campus, supported by leaders from industry and academia, including UCLan, the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield.

Earlier he met trade union representatives on College Green at Westminster to hear their concerns about the future of Springfields.

Sir Mark also called for cooperation with China and said: "There is a lot of controversy around the industry at the moment concerning the involvement of China and China General Nuclear, which owns a significant stake in Hinkley Point C, and our involvement with France. One thing is certain: we have to co-operate with China to develop a carbon-free world. China is a huge country with a huge population and must be part of the solution, not just seen as a problem, as in the case of the very poor debate and decision over Huawei. We can either stay in the 20th century or move forward, with partners such as China and France, who have got so much to offer the industries ... Investing in new nuclear is a no-brainer, so let us get on with it."

The debate had been secured by Fylde MP Mark Menzies in whose constituency the Springfields plant is located. He told MPs: "Springfields is not just a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant; it is the United Kingdom’s only nuclear fuel manufacturing plant, so by any definition that makes it a key UK strategic asset."

As the debate concluded Mr Menzies said: "We have certainly made the case for Springfields, but the work will continue."

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