Salt mine to become huge dump for toxic waste
The use of old minesites as repositories of toxic wastes appears to be increasing. This not only encourages continued unchecked output from polluting industries, but also (conveniently) allows mine operators to escape responsility for ensuring adequate mine closure.
It's not a new idea. In the eighties, the gaping pit left at Paguna, Bougainvile, after Rio Tinto was forced to withdraw by landowner militancy, proved of interest to the huge US outfit, Waste Management, while opencast coal sites have also long been employed as receptacles for domestic and industrial wastes in the US.
Now, inhabitants of Winsford, Cheshire, northern England, are up in arms against a potential toxic mine dump, to be part-managed by Vivendi, the French company that leads the field in privatisation of global water resources. No prizes for guessing who wins the support of the New Labour British government.
Salt mine to become huge dump for toxic waste
Prescott gives go-ahead for plan to avert disposal crisis as change in EU law shuts overground sites
John Vidal, The Guardian (UK)
Thursday January 8, 2004
Britain's only working salt mine is to be partly turned into a giant toxic waste tip to avert a predicted crisis later this year when most existing overground sites will be forced to close.
The 170 metres (550ft) deep mine, near Winsford in Cheshire, currently used to mine rock salt used on icy roads, has been given permission by the British deputy prime minister, John Prescott, to indefinitely store 2m tonnes of toxic waste over the next 20 years. It will include incinerator and heavy industry waste and asbestos, but no liquids.
The mine is a godsend to the government and industry, which urgently need new sites to dump waste, because of its size and geology. The cool, dry caverns and galleries stretch over five square miles along 118 miles of 25ft-high, 75ft-wide corridors - an area large enough in theory to take most of Britain's toxic waste for several generations. Less than 8% of the mine's 23m cubic metres of space is expected to be filled with waste by 2024.
The decision to create Britain's first new underground toxic tip in years follows a public inquiry which gave the go-ahead to the plan two years ago. Permission was revoked, however, after the office of the deputy prime minister inadvertently gave permission for all Cheshire's mines to take waste. That ruling has now been overturned following written submissions to Mr Prescott.
But opponents of the plan in nearby villages yesterday vowed to keep fighting the development.
"The government wants this because their recycling policies have not worked. We fear that waste will be brought in from abroad and that this is just the start," said Laura Williams of a local pressure group, Residents Against Mine Pollution.
"There are thousands of residents close by. There will be noise, dust and fumes from more than 300 movements of heavy lorries a week. There's a real possibility of underground spillages. We just don't know what will end up down there. It could be a time bomb." The caverns could be used for many other purposes, she added.
However, Roger Shaw, managing director of Minosus, the joint venture company between subsidiaries of French and US multinationals Vivendi and AML, yesterday tried to allay fears: "I understand their concerns. They fear that this is a Trojan horse and that we want to expand, but we have no intention of that. We will set up a rigorous monitoring system and will not be taking any waste that is flammable, volatile or gives off a gas."
Britain faces a huge shortage of hazardous and toxic waste disposal facilities after July when EU law will stop it being mixed with household rubbish in landfill sites. More than 200 hazardous waste sites will be closed, leaving only 16 in the UK. Last year 2.1m tonnes of hazardous waste was landfilled in Britain.
But as overground sites dry up, old Cheshire salt workings are becoming increasingly attractive to businesses. ICI has long dumped its toxic waste from nearby chemical works at Holford Brine Fields, near Winsford, and Scottish Power wants permission to store natural gas in old workings near Middlewich.
Meanwhile, the dry, cool atmosphere of the mines makes them ideal for storing documents, and both national and local government records are stored in the Winsford salt mine.
'More challenges to come in future'
By Nicola Irwin, Northwich Chronicle
Dec 30 2003
Protesters have refused to admit defeat after plans to dump toxic waste in Mid Cheshire were finally granted approval by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
The Minosus scheme to create Britain's first underground waste dump at Winsford Rock Salt Mine in Bostock was originally approved following a lengthy public inquiry in July 2002. But the approval was dramatically revoked following a technical error made by the Secretary of State's own department.
Following a review of written submissions, along with planning inspector Andrew Mead's original report from the inquiry, Mr Prescott has decided to go along with the inspector's original recommendation and approved the scheme for a second time. It means about 25 lorries a day will deliver waste to Shaft 4 in Jack Lane, Bostock, where it will be sealed in barrels and taken underground to be stored.
The decision brings an end to a five-year battle against the scheme led by action group RAMP - Residents Against Mine Pollution - which was formed to fight the dump plan. RAMP vice-chairman Chris Whittaker from Petrel Close, Winsford, who has been involved in the battle with Minosus since the scheme was revealed in January 1999, insisted protesters would continue to look into ways they could fight the scheme.
Mr Whittaker said: 'There are still avenues we do wish to investigate. There are ways to review this decision. There have been challenges in the past and there will be in the future. 'I personally am just as opposed as I ever was and I still remain unconvinced as to Minosus's ability to manage such an operation and the risks remain as great.
'In past the company has made a variety of mistakes and we still want further information from it, which it has declined.' He added: 'The fact is that Minosus is doing it for its own commercial benefit and for profit.
'The people of Mid Cheshire and the environment will suffer if it goes ahead and we should do all we can to stop this going through. 'We will keep two very beady eyes on what happens and we obviously have a great deal of environmental concerns because we don't really know what will be put down there.' Mr Whittaker warned residents about some of the problems the scheme could pose.
He said: 'I would suggest people get their houses valued in that area as they will want to have a starting point for when the project comes into operation. 'The roads will get busy and it sets a dangerous precedent. The prospects are nuclear waste will be put in there as well.
'The Government has shown it is only too happy to take other people's rubbish, like the ships from America, so heaven knows what we will eventually get here.'