Image from Together Against Sizewell C Painted by Lee Norton

Mr Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union has been sent the following letter regarding the backwards and dangerous pro-nuclear stance the union is taking. The letter focuses on Sizewell but the same is true throughout the UK. Solidarity towards the health and well being of Unite’s members, the public and the planet is not best served by Unite’s subservience to the nuclear new build agenda.

June 22, 2020

Dear Mr McCluskey

We the undersigned, who include Unite members, object to your support for a proposed nuclear power station at Sizewell.

The Ipswich Star newspaper reported on May 28 that you have written to the Business Secretary, Mr Alok Sharma, to support the project, which is being promoted by the parent French energy company EDF. https://www.ipswichstar.co.uk/news/business/unite-backs-edf-energy-s-sizewell-c-scheme-1-6674900

We would like to know whether you have asked the views of your members on this matter. As you may know, a significant number of trade unions and many trade unionists do not support nuclear power. They prefer investment in renewable energy (RE) sources such as wind and solar which are safer, less polluting, less dangerous, less expensive than nuclear, and do not involve the risks of nuclear wastes and nuclear weapons proliferation. Most importantly, RE sources create far more jobs than nuclear.

It is commonly assumed that the reason your union supports nuclear power is employment, but in fact nuclear power provides relatively few jobs. The Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that nuclear employs about 13,400 full-time equivalent (FTE) direct jobs. However this includes the ~9,400 people working at Sellafield which of course does not produce electricity but consumes a great deal of it: these are mainly reprocessing workers.  This leaves about 4,000 jobs in direct nuclear power generation. 

In contrast, the ONS estimates that RE currently provides about 49,000 direct FTE jobs – ie 12 times more. And if the low-carbon sector were included, the ONS estimates 234,000 direct plus 200,000 indirect jobs to give a total of 434,000 FTE jobs overall.  See https://www.ianfairlie.org/news/official-nuclear-power-provides-jobs/

In fact, a recent trade union initiative estimated there would be over one million future jobs,  including indirect and ancillary jobs in RE. 

In our view, Unite’s pro-nuclear industrial policy is not well-founded.

If we turn to new nuclear construction,  at the Hinkley C site about 4,000 workers are engaged during the highest phase of construction.  However EDF (Energy) has admitted almost all of these jobs are temporary and filled by non-British workers. 

In fact, Hinkley C is remarkably poor bet for Britain and our unions, as industry insiders expect much of the work at Hinkley C, and all hi-tech work, is going to French firms. For example, in 2013, EDF Energy completed a large gas-fired power station at West Burton in Nottinghamshire where all engineering contracts went to French firms. 

Do you expect anything different at Sizewell C, if it were ever allowed to proceed?

As for future jobs, nuclear power is extremely capital intensive.  For example, Hinkley C is estimated by the National Audit Office to cost about £29 billion but would create relatively few jobs.  For example, the number of FTE jobs generated annually by a new 1.6 GW reactor is estimated to be 500 which translates to 45 jobs per terawatt hour (TWh) of generated electricity. But independent studies estimate wind power creates between 900 – 2,400 jobs per TWh and solar PV between 30,000 –100,000 jobs per TWh.

It’s time Unite and the TUC re-examined their beliefs that nuclear is a good provider of jobs. It plainly is not.

 We hope that Unite will change its policy from supporting nuclear energy, which is expensive, dangerous and will not be needed as renewable energy infrastructure continues to be rapidly developed.

Yours sincerely 

Dr Ian Fairlie, Independent Consultant 

Greater Manchester CND gmdcnd@gn.apc.org 

Professor Lynn Jamieson, Chair, Scottish CND

Sam Mason, Policy Officer PCS (personal capacity) 

Pat Sanchez, Unite member

Rae Street, Unite member 

Dr David Toke, Reader, University of Aberdeen


  1. Allison Craggs

    I do not support nuclear power, we need renewables and sustainability! Have we learned nothing from Chernobyl?!

  2. Pingback: UNITE – URGED TO UNITE AGAINST SIZEWELL C – RADIATION FREE LAKELAND 23/06/20 – TASC – Together Against Sizewell C

  3. Pingback: Nuclear, climate, pandemic news for last week in June | Nuclear Australia

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