A government minister launched a £1bn nuclear facility near Chester employing about 100 people which will begin operating later this year.
Andrew Stephenson MP spoke at the official event to mark the completion of the Trails Management Facility (TMF) at Urenco’s Capenhurst site which employs about 900 people in total.
Urenco’s core business is enriching uranium for use in nuclear power stations around the world.
The TMF will manage a low level radioactive but highly toxic byproduct from the process – depleted uranium hexafluoride – also known as ‘tails’ from Urenco’s plants at Capenhurst as well as in Holland and Germany.
It will convert the tails into uranium oxide, which is stable and allows long-term storage for up to 100 years prior to either further enrichment or safe disposal of the residual uranium.
The plant should have been ready back in 2015 for an estimated £400m but the project has experienced delays and cost pressures due to design changes.
However, Urenco, which is part-owned by the British government, says the plant has been paid for from revenues so there is no burden on the taxpayer.
Those gathered at the official launch, including Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders, Urenco customers and members of the community, were told nuclear power is a crucial part of the energy mix because it is reliable and does not contribute to global warming.
Andrew Stephenson MP, minister for business and industry, addressed a packed room at the opening.
He said: “I’m delighted to be invited to join you at this special event today and the opening of the tails management facility.
“Urenco has a vital role to play in the nuclear fuel cycle. And we’re very proud as government to be a part owner of this company. Urenco demonstrates responsible management and stewardship of nuclear materials and has a clear commitment to ensuring sustainability through all of their activities.”
He said Urenco was a world leader in its level of engineering expertise.
Mr Stephenson added: “Nuclear energy has a crucial role to play as we seek to transition to a low carbon society. It is the only technology that is currently proven and can be deployed on a sufficiently large scale to provide continuous low carbon energy and the UK government is committed to cutting our carbon emissions.
Urenco chief executive Boris Schucht, who only joined the company five weeks ago, described the tails plant as a ‘key milestone’ in the company’s history.
He said: “During my first weeks at Urenco I have learned many positive references to this major investment project, I have also learned of perhaps one or two challenges that we may have experienced along the way. The project took three CEOs to be completed!”
Addressing the community, he continued: “I also want to thank our neighbours, the local community, for their patience and understanding. It has a positive economic impact to the local area but I’m fully aware of a certain level of disturbance from trucks, lighting and noise while the facility was under construction. The good thing is, it’s now done.”
Company chairman Stephen Billingham expressed pride in the safety record of the construction project to build the TMF which at its peak involved nearly 2,300 workers on site. He said the building contained 55,000 sq metres of concrete – enough to fill 200 Olympic swimming pools – 7,300 tonnes of steel and enough pipework to bridge the English channel.
As well as managing nuclear materials responsibly, it would enable more efficient long term storage of tails, prior either further enrichment or disposal, as there was a maximum site capacity.
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