The Government should learn within the next two weeks whether burning the rendered remains of BSE-suspect cattle in power stations is the best way of disposing of up to 1.5 million carcasses a year.
Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are in the final stages of preparing an advisory paper on the issue, which will present detailed cost comparisons.
The most likely alternative is commercial incinerators, including those designed for toxic waste – Maff’s only contract is with Rechem to dispose of 20,000 tonnes a year in such a facility.
Agriculture minister Dr Jack Cunningham said at the end of June that some of the offers from power generators to take on the disposal task had been `off the scale’ in cost. He suggested that the Government might itself buy or lease a disused power plant for the purpose.
The Environment Agency announced a few days earlier that the tests carried out by PowerGen and National Power last year had shown the risk of human infection from the operation to be negligible – as low as one in 30,000 million. Scottish Power also conducted trials.
Adapting an operating power station to burn the bonemeal and tallow to which the carcasses are reduced would take several months and cost about £5m. The boilers would need converting and there would have to be new handling facilities.
The generators have not disclosed their proposed charges, but a source at one insisted that its bid would do little more than cover costs. `We’re not doing it as a commercial activity. It’s a lot of money up-front for a shortish-period,’ he said.
There would be some benefit for the power companies in the free fuel they would receive. While the bonemeal would flare away almost instantly, the tallow has a higher calorific value than coal.
Meanwhile, the costs of storage are considerable. A spokeswoman at the Intervention Board, the agency administering the cattle cull, said the 130,000 tonnes of bonemeal and 128,000 tonnes of tallow awaiting disposal had cost £6.5m to store in the past year. She said there would be no physical constraint on storage for at least several months.