Twenty illegal workers arrested after being found working at a construction site in Capenhurst were employed at a new build £400m plant which is to process and store a depleted uranium by-product, it has emerged.

Originally the 20 Indian men, aged between 25 and 50, were thought to have been working at a power station.

It is now known immigration officials swooped on the Urenco ChemPlant Tails Management Facility (TMF) to question the illegal workers all employed by sub-contractor Sword Construction.

Eleven of those arrested were transferred to immigration detention pending removal from the UK whilst the remainder have been ordered to report to the Home Office regularly while steps are taken to remove them. The visit was carried out with the full co-operation of the main construction company working at the site.

Their privately owned civil engineering sub contractor, based in north Lincolnshire, would be served a notice warning that financial penalties of up to £20,000 per illegal worker arrested would be imposed unless the employer could demonstrate appropriate right to work document checks were carried out, such as seeing a passport or Home Office document, a statement said. No proof would result in a potential total penalty of up to £400,000.

The company’s website says that while mainly providing civil engineering services it also offers highly specialised labour hire and the purchase or hire of construction equipment.

A spokesperson for the TMF said: “We are aware that the UK Immigration Department visited the Tails Management Facility (TMF) construction site at Capenhurst on October 13, 2015. A number of persons from a subcontractor were detained and interviewed for not having the legal right to work in the UK.

“We take these matters extremely seriously and in this respect we have launched a thorough investigation. As an immediate response we have implemented improved rigour to ensure all contractors and subcontractors have the right to work in the UK. We are working closely with all the relevant bodies to resolve this situation.”

The subsidiary company was set up to build and operate the TMF which will handle a by product known as depleted uranium hexafluoride or ‘tails’.

This is currently stored in internationally approved transport cylinders. The new plant, due to open in 2017 and said to be earthquake proof, will convert the tails into a lower hazard material for long term storage and potential future reuse.

Planning officers were told in 2008 that depending on uranium supplies and the economics of the uranium market, the material, potentially, may not be required for up to 100 years. Although existing arrangements were safe measures needed to be taken to ensure long term safe storage.

There has been no comment from Sword Construction.