THE JOHNSON government is to pay out tens of millions of pounds to restart production of carbon dioxide at a key plant in the UK amid fears over a collapse of food supplies and a shutdown of the nuclear industry.
The government is to meet the full operating costs to run CF Industries’ Teesside plant for three weeks, to begin with.
US-owned CF Industries recently shut two sites that produce 60% of the UK’s commercial carbon dioxide supplies.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said that the deal with CF Industries will be a gift. ‘It will be not a loan, it will be a payment to underwrite some of their fixed costs.’
It is understood that the support is to be in the ‘low tens of millions’.
The Times has reported that ministers were concerned that the UK may have to close its six advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors which also use CO2.
Kwarteng said the ‘exceptional short-term arrangement’ would ensure industries that rely on a stable supply of CO2 ‘have the resources they require to avoid disruption.’
The CF Industries’ site in Ince, Cheshire will take about three days to restart CO2 production.
CF boss Tony Will, who flew from the US to the UK on Sunday to meet Kwarteng, said: ‘We look forward to working with Secretary Kwarteng and the UK government on developing a longer-term solution, including the development of alternative suppliers of CO2 for the UK market.’
The business secretary previously ruled out nationalising the company.
Carbon dioxide was currently priced at about £200 a tonne, but CF Industries would be asking for £1,000 a tonne.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people not to worry about putting food on the table this winter for their children, amid rising energy and food bills and a cut to universal credit.
Wholesale prices for gas have surged 250% since January, with a 70% rise since August alone.
Meanwhile the Unite and Prospect trade unions, which represent workers at Springfields Nuclear Fuels near Preston, have called for the government to look at changing the ownership model of the site.
Their statement says: ‘As trade unions representing the highly skilled workforce at Springfields, we are increasingly concerned that the current ownership model is becoming a potential obstacle to preserving the site and the jobs that depend on it.
‘Westinghouse, the current owners, have so far failed to provide cast-iron guarantees on the future of fuel manufacturing at the site and have failed to bring in additional work either from their own reactors abroad or to fuel the reactors of their competitors.
‘Unless this situation changes, we believe that the government should consider an alternative ownership structure that will maximise the possibility of protecting the site and maintaining this vital sovereign
The unions continue: ‘We therefore call on government to urgently develop options for alternative ownership structures for Springfields, with the aim of protecting sovereign capability and securing the future of UK nuclear fuel.’
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: ‘Ministers must consider all ownership options for Springfields in order to retain the UK’s sovereign capability to produce nuclear fuel, including facilitating a transfer of ownership to NNL (National Nuclear Laboratory).’
Unite has refused to call for the immediate nationalisation of the plants.
Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary of Prospect, said: ‘The best way forward that we can see is to bring Springfields into a form of public ownership on a temporary or permanent basis and we urge the government to urgently develop options for alternative ownership structures.’
In fact the unions must mobilise for national strike action to secure the nationalisation under workers management of the entire food and nuclear industry, as the only way to guarantee food supplies, defend jobs and power the country.