Monday 5 March 2007

Incinerator planned for Dublin

A FIREBALL fuelled by gas and shooting hot metal hundreds of feet into the air could result from a major fire at the incinerator planned for Dublin.

A risk assessment of the waste-to-energy plant shows nine nightmarish scenarios that could occur if systems broke down or a fire broke out at the site.

They include the possibility of fuel tanks blowing up, which would send a fireball into the sky, the release of dangerous chemicals, contaminated water pouring into Dublin Bay or a fire in waste-storage bunkers which could spread throughout the facility.


But the risk assessment also concludes that the effects of any of these major accidents outside the site would be minimal. It states that the risks to humans and the environment from the Dublin facility would be "extremely low".

Last July Dublin City Council, on behalf of the four local authorities in the capital, applied for planning permission for the incinerator on the Poolbeg peninsula which would burn 600,000 tonnes of waste every year.

More than 2,000 objections were received by Bord Pleanala, including one from Tanaiste Michael McDowell.

Last week, he caused controversy when he announced that the incinerator would not go ahead because the Danish company charged with building and operating it, Elsam, had pulled out of the deal.

The council said that negotiations were ongoing about changes to the contract. As part of the planning application, the council was required to submit a report on the risks posed to the public in the event of a serious accident at the plant.

The report - Dublin Waste to Energy Facility Major Accident Hazard Assessment - notes that two power plants nearby are "potential major accident hazard sites" and that dangerous substances - including diesel oil, ammonium hydroxide and heavy metals - would be stored on site.

Heavy metals would be found in the ash produced after household waste was burnt, including cadmium, mercury, cobalt and nickel monoxide - all of which are described as "toxic" or "harmful".

The report says that a diesel fire could "escalate to other parts of the facility" and that a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) system used to start the incineration process could result in a "fireball and generation of projectiles" from the ruptured cylinder if a fire were to break out.

It also warns that dangerous chemicals - including household bleach used to cool water pipes - could be pumped into the environment if systems broke down.

And a fire caused by hot ashes igniting waste material could result in contaminated water being released.


But using the worst-case scenario, the report finds that the risk posed to human health from inhaling fumes from a fire in the waste bunker is "deemed to be insignificant".

Automatic fire-control systems would automatically extinguish small fires, and the chances of a fire igniting the LPG stores tanks was "highly unlikely", the report says.

Even if an explosion occurred, the effects would be absorbed by the building and "directed to a safe location".

It notes that the possibility of an earthquake occurring which could pose a danger to the plant was "very low", and although the plant would be built on land reclaimed from the sea, if subsidence occured, it would "not be expected to result in a major accident", the report says.

Paul Melia
Irish Independent

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