The GMB Union and Community trade unions say they have secured a commitment from Tata Steel to engage in “constructive consultation” on a plan for decarbonising Port Talbot developed in partnership with consultancy Syndex. This includes the commissioning of a smaller-than-planned electric arc furnace to run in tandem with blast furnace no.4 until 2032.

Central to the plan is maintaining at least the current 3.2 million tonnes/year of finished steel production and managing the risk of introducing EAF steelmaking “without an established scrap supply chain or existing expertise”, the unions say in a report seen by Kallanish.

Rather than installing a single 3m t/y EAF, as proposed by Tata, a 1.5m t/y EAF would be added to run alongside the 2m t/y BF4 until at least 2032. The technology choice to succeed BF4 will be kept under review but could be either a second EAF or an Open Slag Bath Furnace (OSBF) plant to facilitate the production of steel primarily from iron ore.

A major concern of the unions was that a single, large-capacity EAF would “lock us into a single technological approach, producing a significantly reduced and limited portfolio through recycling scrap steel in an EAF, which would be substantially less green than the more-ambitious mainstream decarbonisation strategies being adopted by our main competitors”, they point out.

“We believe that Tata and the Government are pursing ‘decarbonisation on the cheap’, and we are extremely concerned that high-value parts of our portfolio, notably relating to packaging and automotive steels, cannot be produced through the EAF route. An EAF-only approach would therefore threaten the future of crucial downstream operations including the Trostre and Llanwern works, adding to the potentially devastating economic and social consequences, particularly for South Wales,” they add.

Since the unions secured the consultation commitment during a meeting with senior representatives of Tata Steel on 17 November, Syndex has been engaging with Tata's management in a review of the multi-unions’ proposal.

The unions also deem necessary the construction of a direct reduced iron plant at Port Talbot or another UK site that could feed not just Tata Steel but also other UK steelmakers. “A domestic DRI plant would secure the UK’s sovereign capability to produce steel from iron ore, which we consider to be strategically important in the global context of fragile international supply chains and increasing nation-first sentiment,” the unions observe.

A third union, Unite, which had backed consultations between Tata Steel and Syndex, withdrew its support earlier this month when Syndex published its plan. It is demanding doubling UK steelmaking capacity, £12 billion of public investment into the steel industry and not a single job cut.