Fluor, the US engineering conglomerate that has won a £7bn contract to clean up a dozen British nuclear sites, has been warned that anti-union practices “won’t be tolerated”.
Nuclear industry insiders were shocked yesterday when Britain’s Babcock International and Texas-based Fluor were chosen to decommission the near-obsolete Magnox reactors. Energy Solutions, now backed by its US partner Bechtel, was widely expected to continue its clean-up for a further 14 years.
In 2009 Fluor had to settle for a record $12m after a two-decade fight over anti-union hiring practices in the US. Gary Smith, the national secretary for energy at the GMB union, told The Independent: “Any anti-union behaviour won’t be tolerated by us, particularly on Magnox sites that are heavily unionised.”
Kevin Coyne, the Unite union’s national officer, said: “Change is often unsettling, so as soon as practically possible Unite will want to meet the Cavendish Fluor Partnership to assess its direction and ensure workers’ terms and conditions are protected.”
A spokesman for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which awarded the contract, said the union issue was “not for us”. He added in a statement: “The new parent body organisation was evaluated on its performance only in relation to the Magnox and RSRL [Research Sites Restoration Limited] sites. The NDA’s oversight and the sanctions detailed in the contract will provide it with the capability to address any shortfalls in performance.”
Industry sources conceded that Fluor’s union record in the UK has generally been good, but they were concerned that Fluor had “no track record” of nuclear work in Britain. More typical contracts have included the Greater Gabbard wind farm off the Suffolk coast and a radio and transmission system for the London Underground.
The deal also includes the decommissioning of research sites. Babcock, which landed the contract through its Cavendish Nuclear subsidiary, has more experience in this area, as it is part of the team cleaning up Dounreay in the Scottish Highlands.
The consortium will take ownership of Magnox Ltd and Research Sites Restoration Limited in September. It is expected to save more than £1bn across the 12 sites between then and 2028.