Lancashire's nuclear fuel plant celebrates 75 years but has its eyes on the future of power
It was built 75 years ago on the site of a former wartime munitions factory and has seen generations of workers employed and communities such as at Clifton and Lea supported, but the Springfields nuclear fuels manufacturing plant at Salwick in the Fylde still has a vital role to play in the future of the UK’s future power needs.
Once under the flag of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and later British Nuclear Fuels, it is now run by Springfields Fuels Limited, under the management of Westinghouse Electric UK.
Today, Springfields manufactures the nuclear fuel which produces around 32 per cent of the UK’s low carbon electricity and will play a key role in helping the UK achieving its Net Zero by 2050 clean energy ambitions.
The 83 hectare nuclear licensed site is at the heart of the UK’s North West Nuclear Arc, and is a Strategic National Asset for the UK Government.
It also plays an important role for the regional economy, employing around 800 highly skilled nuclear professionals, and is home to the Oxide Fuels Complex, one of the most modern nuclear fuel manufacturing facilities in the world.
As the UKs first generation of nuclear power stations gradually come off line, questions still remain over the future of the industry and the relatively expensive cost of building new power stations, decisions that have been pout on the back burner by successive governments concerned about the outlay and the disposing of nuclear waste material afterwards.
But nuclear is prized as it can provide a constant baseline load for the electricity gird to supplement renewables when their production is low doe to lack of wind or sun.
So in 2020, the Springfields site launched the UK’s Clean Energy Technology Park to further support the UK’s Net Zero ambitions. The Clean Energy Technology Park aims to provide a collaborative hub for demonstrating and accelerating the commercialisation of a broad range of nuclear-related technologies.
Westinghouse is inviting technology providers to join a collaborative hub with access to world-class people and facilities to advance developments in game changing technologies within power generation.
The Clean Energy Technology Park is focussed on securing a long, sustainable future for the Springfields site – Shaping Tomorrow’s Future, by focusing around three areas:
n Fuel Manufacturing Centre of Excellence
n A leading facility for Nuclear Materials Management
n A collaborative innovation hub for Advanced Nuclear Technologies.
More than 7,000 Terawatt hours of reliable electricity has been generated from fuel manufactured at Springfields, which has included fuel for Magnox Reactors, Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGR), Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR).
This is enough energy to supply the UK’s electricity demand for more than 20 years.
In 2019 alone: More than 32 million fuel pellets were manufactured, with the 12 million AGR pellets providing enough energy to power every journey made by the UK’s 31 million cars (if they were all electric) in that year.
More than 250 PWR fuel assemblies were manufactured, which is enough to power more than 15 million homes, avoiding around 27 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Now the team at Springfields, which has the advantage of being a secure nuclear licenced site, has ambitions to fuel all of the UK’s new nuclear reactors, in order to continue to support the drive to zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to develop the new nuclear technologies of the future from small modular reactors and AP1000 power plants to nuclear fusion, and the use of nuclear technology in medical fields.
Brian Nixon, managing director at Springfields, said: “I am extremely proud of the role Springfields has played for the UK over its 75 year history, but I am more excited about the role that we will continue to play for the next 75 years.
“Our Clean Energy Technology Park has the capability and the capacity to fuel all the UK’s future new nuclear programs and develop clean energy technologies that will be pivotal to the UK achieving Net Zero by 2050 – securing highly skilled green jobs for future generations.”
More than 30 per cent of the employees at Springfields were trained on-site in the Apprentice Training Centre, which has been at the heart of the local community for more than 70 years – training approximately 2,000 apprentices in total, both for the site, and other local companies.
The training provided through its apprentice training programme has been central to the site’s success - both for its customers and the UK.
The company said ensuring that its employees were equipped with the skills to safely deliver the highest quality products and services, was at the core of its Nuclear Safety Culture for which it had won 19 consecutive Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents awards.
Managing director Brian Nixon was an apprentice, as were around half of the leadership team. Hands on training is done on site, while theory is done at Blackpool and The Fylde College’s Lancashire Energy HQ.