Unions call for Parliament to protect jobs at Preston nuclear fuel manufacturer

MPs will debate the future of Preston’s nuclear fuel manufacturer Westinghouse Springfields tomorrow (September 7).

Springfields is the UK’s only facility suitable for making fuel for nuclear power generation.

Trade unions Unite and Prospect have warned that a series of redundancies at the facility risks leaving it with a critical shortage of skills. The debate will take place in Parliament’s Westminster Hall.

Springfields Fuels manufactures nuclear fuel, mainly for the UK’s Advanced Gas cooled Reactors (AGR).

The facility also manufactures other fuel types and has the capability to adapt to future fuelling requirements.

The site is the only UK civil nuclear fuel fabrication site which guarantees security of supply for a new nuclear-build programme and is of strategic national importance.

To mark the debate trade union representatives of Unite the Union and Prospect will be holding a small rally on College Green outside Parliament.

They will be meeting MPs to tell them first-hand about the importance of the facility to jobs in the Preston area, as well as to maintaining skills and to reaching the country’s net zero ambitions.

The announcement by EDF Energy on August 27, 2020, to bring forward the closure of Hunterston nuclear power station by January 2022, the June 7, 2021 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, the UK’s energy security and its indigenous nuclear fuel manufacturing capacity, say union leaders.

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 Ltd, the UK’s only nuclear fuel manufacturer, supporting 2,000 skilled jobs in the North West of England, plus a further 800 directly at Springfields.

In April 2021, Springfields announced a further 120 redundancies as a result of this situation, further eroding the skills base at the company and the ability to deliver in the future, said the unions.

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.

“As ministers will hear in the Parliamentary debate, maintaining our nuclear fuel manufacturing capability is not an issue that divides across political lines. Everyone, no matter which party they belong to, agrees on its critical importance.”

She added: “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. If we are to have a just transition to a carbon free economy, the Government must work with Springfield in the interests of the company’s, and its workers’, long-term future.”

Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary, said: “Springfields has a crucial role to play in both the net zero and levelling up agendas, but the future of this facility and its talented workforce is at risk because of a lack of coherent strategic thinking by government and industry.

“MPs have a chance to raise this issue directly with the Government at a special debate when Parliament is back, and I would urge them to speak up for Springfields and the many hundreds of good, high skilled, green jobs it supports.

“It is essential that the Government makes it clear that it regards the ability to manufacture our own nuclear fuel as a sovereign capability that must be protected and takes all appropriate action to ensure that Springfields remains open, including working with the company and resolving uncertainty about the future of nuclear power in the UK.”