Whitehaven News

The Whitehaven News


By Alan Irving
Thursday, March 29, 2001

A HUGE jobs crisis is looming at Sellafield if BNFL fails to get the go ahead to operate its new Mox plutonium production plant in the next four months.

However, The Whitehaven News believes that an announcement on the start of the consultation process is imminent.

Brian Watson, head of operations at Sellafield, has spelled out his worst fears to Copeland councillors.

The meeting was held in private and many of the 30 councillors left concerned about the potential numbers of jobs on the line.

They were told July is the critical month. Unless the government finally gives approval by then BNFL will not be able to meet its existing contractual obligations for the plant.

Hundreds of jobs hinge on having the plant ready in July to recycle plutonium from Thorp into new fuel and without the licence BNFL could see the end to reprocessing. This would have catastrophic longer-term effects. The worse-case scenario is that only 2,000 jobs - 4,000 less than at present - would be needed to look after the site's nuclear waste.

David Moore, chairman of the Sellafield Local Liaison Committee, said: "Brian Watson wasn't pulling his punches. My understanding was there would be job losses on site if there is no licence for Mox. If it doesn't come by July, it could stop a Swiss order which could go elsewhere. It was spelled out quite clearly to the council. He was saying if there is no Mox licence they would have to look at the justification for Thorp and nuclear fuel reprocessing. The implications for the site are very serious in manpower because of the knock-on effects."

But council leader Robin Simpson said: "I am optimistic, not pessimistic. I think the government will give the green light and that will remove the doom and gloom but it has to be sooner than later. I understand the new consultations will take six to eight weeks leaving enough time to get a postive decision for July."

Fellow labour councillor and Sellafield worker Brian Cottier, who works in Magnox reprocessing, was also at the meeting. He said: "It is extremely serious and very worrying. Anybody who thinks it isn't must be burying their head in the sand."

Coun Geoff Blackwell, another BNFL worker, said: "We had a hard-hitting discussion with Brian Watson. We know the situation is pretty desperate. It is only right that people should be aware of it. The factory can't go on as it is and BNFL has a number of key dates to be met, July is one of them for the Mox plant. It seems as if the Japanese are standing back and not willing to make a commitment until such time as Sellafield demonstrates it can carry out the job. If things go well there is a long secure future for the industry and some job creation at Sellafield; if not there will be severe consequences.

"I specifically asked Brian Watson for the worst case scenario so we can consider appropriate action, lobbying and extra funding to offset the potentially catastrophic consequences, the job losses that would follow. It would mean the workforce being drastically reduced"

Tory group leader Mike Graham said: "It was a warts and all meeting. The message I took away was that unless this plant is licensed as soon as possible it will have serious job implications. At the end of the day Mox is a 400 million plant and over 600 jobs depend on it. It is absolutely crucial that Mox gets licensed in July or sooner otherwise it will be touch and go. I can't understand why BNFL has to go through yet another consultation."