New future for smelter site could rise out of ashes

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THE huge ash lagoons at Lynemouth’s smelter plant will not blight the village after Rio Tinto Alcan pulls out and could even be an asset, a public meeting heard on Tuesday.

The lagoons’ management was regulated and they would be able to be restored to farmland eventually, the meeting was told.

The company would also encourage a prospective buyer of the power station to co-operate with any reputable firm wanting to recycle the ash, said the site’s environmental director, John Clarkson.

Engineer Howard Denby, of south Wales, has expressed interest in turning the ash into granular glass in a process like that used at Sellafield in Cumbria.

He says cement and many other products can be made from such glass cheaply and would expect to create an initial 50 jobs and hundreds more eventually.

While being questioned by county and Newbiggin town councillor Alan Thompson, Mr Clarkson said he knew of the proposal, but the prospective buyer of the power station, yet to be named, wanted to use the lagoons for ash storage.

“If somebody comes along with a suggestion like that, we will encourage the new owner of the power station to consider something like that.” said Mr Clarkson.

“That is basically all we can do at this stage – encourage the new owner to operate the lagoons in the way we have operated them and to look at all possible means of recovering that material.”

Coun Thompson said: “If we don’t have a project that can incorporate those skills, we will lose those skills. They will go all over the world.

“This a fantastic opportunity from a moral point of view for Rio Tinto to improvise moral capitalism, if you like, or capitalism with a conscience, to give a lead in that direction.”

Newbiggin town clerk Dennis Earl said vast areas of lagoon had bordered residential areas for 40 years, so he would like to see them used for the good of the surrounding population.

“After this length of time, it would be good to see a legacy left to Newbiggin whereby something was done that could reclaim at least part of those areas,” he said.

Mr Earl also wanted assurances that the rail line would remain available to both the power station and smelter sites.

Rio Tinto Alcan regional director John McCabe said: “There is absolutely no question of allowing that section of line to go to rack and ruin.”

Town councillor Mavis Cholerton said Newbiggin people were concerned about the lagoons and their effect on the environment.

Mr Clarkson said the waste was classed as non-hazardous, mainly alumina and silica, and it did not leach or degrade.

Planning permission conditions required the lagoons to be restored to farmland, he added.

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