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Union fears over firefighting cuts at Capenhurst nuclear plant

Emergency response staff balloted on strike action over redundancy threat 

Urenco UK Ltd at Capenhurst near Ellesmere Port.

Fears are being raised about a proposed reduction in the firefighting capability of the in-house service at the Capenhurst nuclear site.

Trade union GMB says 25 male and female emergency response and rescue staff at Urenco’s uranium enrichment plant have balloted for strike action because their roles are threatened with redundancy.

Regional officer Albie McGuigan says there are plans to create 12-15 security jobs with fire marshal responsibilities, but staff would be on reduced pay.

They would be tasked with containing incidents until Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service arrived on scene which would lead to delays in the emergency response.

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The GMB said two fire engines would be retained but the fire marshals could not tackle blazes, perform rescues, enter confined spaces or use breathing apparatus.

Aside from risk to life, the union says the in-house service has a vital role in protecting the multi-million pound plant and equipment.

The GMB says Capenhurst intends to rely on Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service in future.

Mr McGuigan said: “It’s important people in the wider community know what’s going on here. It’s really important.”

In addition to providing a response service, the union says the current workforce carries out daily checks that help prevent incidents occurring in the first place.

About 16-18 of the affected staff were originally employed by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd but were transferred across to Babcock International on the same conditions when the service was outsourced by Urenco UK Ltd in 2013.

Then around 18 months ago there had been an attempt to change the shift pattern but the company had backed off following a ballot of members.

Barrels containing depleted uranium hexafluoride being stored at Capenhurst.(Image: Ian Cooper)

Mr McGuigan understands the redundancies are the result of Urenco concluding the current level of service provided by Babcock is no longer required and instead there will be a reliance on the county fire brigade.

“GMB members have indicated that they will take industrial action if needs be,” added Mr McGuigan, who said feelings were ‘running really high’.

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Urenco spokesman Neil Fagan said: “Urenco UK Limited, in line with its nuclear license, conduct an annual review of safety and security for all areas of the business. The overall aim is to ensure that the incident response capability is effective and efficient against current and known future requirements.

“The results of the review have been communicated to Babcock International who currently supply fire and incident response teams to the Capenhurst site. Any proposals to changes in these services will be discussed in co-ordination with Babcock.”

Babcock International has not commented.

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