UPDATE 28/10/2021 - The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced £75m of funding for the preservation of the UK’s nuclear fuel production capability following the Spending Review. My thanks go to all those at Westinghouse, in Government and representing trade unions who have fought so hard to secure this vital package
Fylde has a long and proud history supporting the UK nuclear sector with the highly-skilled work of manufacturing fuels taking place at Springfields near Salwick.
There are many skilled and dedicated people working on the Springfields site. I want to ensure those jobs and unique talents are retained and we build on the work which has been carried out at Springfields for decades, supporting UK energy security for years to come.
Springfields 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. Over 800 people are employed directly with the wider supply chain employing countless thousands more. The Government estimates indicate that fuel fabrication facilities in the north-west support over 4,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Among these employees, roughly a third of those who work on site began their career as apprentices, jumping at the chance of what were jobs for life, as 2,000 people have done since apprenticeship schemes started at Springfields 71 years ago.
It is clear to me Nuclear power will be a key element in the UKs transition to a net-zero economy. It's clean and it's green and alongside renewables new nuclear is a big part of our future. As we look to build towards that low-carbon future, with the backdrop of an ever more uncertain world, we must also strengthen our energy security. Sovereign manufacturing capability must be at the heart of that. It is simply inconceivable that in the thriving nuclear industry of the future, we may be reliant on overseas markets for the core parts of our reactor supply chain.
But with legacy nuclear plants closing down as they reach the end of their lives we need to ensure there is work for Springfields in the near future. In the short term, to cope with the drop-off in demand, Springfields needs to find sources of income to support continued work and employment. To date, the redundancies have been voluntary, but that will likely not be the case going forward for employees, management and the unions. I am pleased to have worked constructively with unions Unite and Prospect who have engaged on a cross-party basis to represent the interests of their workforce. I have corresponded with constituents working on site, who have made their feelings clear. Some other opportunities in the wider nuclear sector are also proposed, such as decommissioning, but the site’s unique selling point is its ability to produce nuclear fuel, and that must be protected.
In September I called a debate in Parliament on this important issue and secured vital assurances from Ministers who stated the strategic importance of maintaining our sovereign fuel manufacturing capability and recognised the importance of maintaining and developing the skilled workforce, which will be critical to delivering our net zero ambitions. There is a commitment from Government and beyond to leave no stone unturned in response to these unique challenges. I wish to ensure we deliver together for the local workforce and for UK energy security.
Workers at Springfields continue to have my backing but we need to find solutions to plug the gap between the decommissioning of legacy reactors and new nuclear coming online. I continue to liaise with unions, Government officials and all those who have an interest in Springfields, most recently meeting with representatives of Westinghouse, the US Embassy and Energy Minister Greg Hands to press the case for investment and innovation to ensure short-term challenges don't lead to a future skills gap and missed opportunities.