How many Prestonians are aware that on their doorstep is one of worlds leading manufactures of nuclear fuel and producers of uranium products.
Springfields, 5 miles from Preston, is the site of the UK’s main nuclear fuel manufacturing operations. The site also homes the UK National Nuclear Laboratory.
The Springfields plant was the first in the world to make nuclear fuel and fuel elements for the next generation of nuclear power stations will be manufactured at the site. It has been making nuclear fuels since the mid-1940s and is also notable for being the first nuclear plant in the world to produce fuel for a commercial power station connected to the national grid.
In fact the Northwest is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of nuclear facilities.
A report recently stated that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) had given Westinghouse, who run the site, a new long-term lease of its facilities at Springfield to look after and contain the uranium enrichment site and make sure the surrounding environment is safe. But what happens to the waste from the uranium enrichment and how safe is the site?
As Springfields is only a few short miles away on the outskirts of Preston I was naturally interested and wanted to know more. I needed to know if Westinghouse were aware of locals concerns.
I asked Westinghouse to comment on fears about safety. They said: “may I assure you that the health and safety of Springfields employees, the environment and the local community is our number one priority.
“All our operations are monitored by various regulators, including the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Environment Agency, and the Food Standards Agency.”
I asked if they could comment on statements that they may discharge waste onto nearby Clifton Marsh and the Ribble. They replied: “In addition to our own very strict environmental standards, our regulators regularly monitor our operations to ensure that we comply with their stringent authorisations with regards to our environmental discharges and disposals to the River Ribble and Clifton Marsh.”
“Springfields has always had an excellent relationship with our local community and is proud of our open and honest policy. You may be interested to know that this includes our Springfields Site Stakeholder Group (SSG) – an independently chaired body which meets no less than twice a year to discuss issues of importance and interest relevant to Springfields and the local community.
“The SSG comprises local councilors and council officials, regulatory inspectors (Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency), government agencies such as Food Standards Agency, local emergency services and local environmental groups. Members of the public are also welcome to attend as observers and are invited to join in with questions at the end of the meeting.
“Details of the meetings, the next of which is on 20th November, can be found on our website. Our website also provides more information on our operations, our environmental policy and community links. There is also a link on the website to our annual environmental report which is published on our parent company’s (Toshiba) website.”
I was aware that uranium is delivered to Springfields from all around the world. Westinghouse commented “the uranium compounds which are delivered to Springfields are supplied by our customers and can originate in a number of countries throughout the world.”
Finally I asked about a recent nuclear alert at the fuel plant earlier this month when a chimney filter at the site blew-out. They told me: “Springfields has been manufacturing nuclear fuel since 1946 and we have never had a major environmental event.
“The event to which you refer… which occurred recently was a filter failure from one of our chemical facilities on site. Filter paper was ejected from a stack on one of our plants, which was undergoing a routine shut down at the time, and deposited in a small area to the west of the site. Some of the paper was blown off site.
“I can assure you that the paper presented no health hazard to the public or our workforce and was completely safe to handle. Temporary road closures were set up to allow our staff to safely collect the paper from the road and carry out reassurance monitoring without risk from vehicles. Clean-up was simply a task of picking up the filter paper by hand.”
It is reassuring the plant has effective safety measures in place.
What do you think about the Springfields plant? Do you have any concerns? Let us know in the comments below