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First new deep coalmine for three decades must go ahead to fuel the UK steel industry

3 min read

At the heart of this debate is an industry as old as industry itself; indeed, a technology which was first deployed in my neighbouring constituency of Workington using the then-advanced manufacturing process named after its founder, the (Henry) Bessemer blast furnace.

The steel industry has come a long way since 1870. It is now the second most-used material, pipped only by concrete. In a world ever taller, even stronger and more advanced, steel aids every part of our lives and livelihoods every moment of every day. Every bit of research leads me to believe our reliance upon steel will increase, especially as we rightly transition from fossil fuel dependency to low-carbon alternatives.

As the UK embarks upon its Green Industrial Revolution, ticking off the Ten Point Plan, setting the pathway to net zero, many across Copeland believe that a sustainable indigenous steel industry is of great importance and a very exciting prospect. 

Our energy coast combines renewable and low-carbon technologies, all needing steel. The ambitious 40GW of wind power generation will require hundreds of turbines, gracing our land and seas, but with an average of 220 tonnes of steel needed to build a single turbine, timely and affordable execution will depend upon our ability to make or procure vast quantities of the correct type and grade of steel.

We’ll need 180,000 tonnes of steel to build the British Rolls-Royce-led 440MW small modular reactor, for example.

Every bit of research leads me to believe our reliance upon steel will increase

Nuclear is what we do best in Copeland. We proudly call ourselves (with credibility and decades of trusted competency) the centre of nuclear excellence. But we also recognise our limitations, due in large part to a somewhat reduced steel industry. Constructing a pressure vessel is a distant memory, resulting in an uncomfortable dependency on oversees partners. 

My family (miner, metallurgist, engineer and nuclear welder to name a few) and thousands in my community demonstrate a pedigree affirming precision manufacturing in the world’s most difficult-to-access environments. Through necessity we are perfecting robotics and remotely operated vehicles across land, in water and through the air. And West Cumbria Mining’s Woodhouse Colliery will harness the most modern of technologies too – using electric and green diesel, solar panels and sustainable solutions at every opportunity.

The World Steel Association forecasts the global demand for steel will rise by 4.1 per cent in 2021.
We are currently importing 2.177m tonnes of coking coal a year, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with the biggest sources being Russia, the US and Australia, with significant emissions from the thousands of miles of fossil-fuelled train and shipped transportation. A UK source of 3.0Mt of coke would save approximately 150,000 tonnes annually of CO2.

During the year of COP26, it is right to shine a light on a polluting industry, responsible for 6.7 per cent of global C02 and to strive for the necessary research and development towards cleaner, greener alternatives. A specific, measurable, achievable, resourced and timebound roadmap to net zero-compliant steel would be both smart and illuminating. 

But, in parallel, when the private sector is keen to invest £165m in West Cumbria, potentially creating 500 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs, and then contributing £1.8bn to GDP in the first 10 years to develop a source of essential and particularly high-quality metallurgical coke – never to be used in power stations anywhere, ever – Copeland is keen to welcome Woodhouse Colliery.
The public inquiry will now take place from 7 September and is expected to last 16 days. An expertly technical and realistic understanding of extraction and steelmaking, and our dependency upon steel for UK manufacturing, now and long into the future, will be critical.

Trudy Harrison is Conservative MP for Copeland

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