Augean confident of winning appeal for nuclear waste site

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HAZARDOUS waste specialist Augean is confident it can win its battle to establish the first UK landfill site able to take both non-hazardous and low-level nuclear waste at its King’s Cliffe site near Peterborough.

Wetherby-based Augean has appealed against a council decision blocking it from accepting low-level nuclear waste at King’s Cliffe.

The company said the original application was refused, despite the fact that the planning officer’s report strongly recommended approving it.

Augean’s chief executive Paul Blackler said disposal of low-level nuclear waste at permitted landfill sites fits in with Government policy for the decommissioning of redundant nuclear facilities.

“Importantly, it poses no risk to the local community or economy,” he said.

Following the appeal hearing in October, the subsequent report from the planning inspector was submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government last month.

Augean anticipates a final decision from the Minister by May 24.

“We are confident,” said Mr Blackler. “We believe our application followed Government policy.”

Low-level nuclear waste has been identified as a key opportunity for the group and more sites could follow.

The waste would come from construction, mainly soils and rubble, with small amounts of radioactivity, coming from the demolition of offices and the decommissioning of power stations.

It would also include other sources such as hospitals and science and research facilities.

The Environment Agency also supported Augean’s proposals. The agency is keen to find cheaper outlets for low-level nuclear waste arising from the demolition of buildings at nuclear sites undergoing decommissioning.

But protesters said the landfill site was close to the source of Huntingdonshire’s water supply.

Mr Blackler was speaking yesterday as Augean announced 2010 results slightly ahead of expectations. Adjusted pre-tax profits for the year to December 31 came in at £400,000, above expectations, but below the previous year’s £1.3m.

Revenues, excluding the flattering impact of rising landfill tax charges, rose three per cent to £29m.

The fall in profits was blamed on the heavy snow in January, February and December 2010, which had a significant impact on the company, particularly in landfill.

The group’s diggers can’t work in freezing conditions, which can also disrupt attempts to clean lorries on their way in and out of the site. Analyst Andy Murphy at Singer Capital Markets said the results showed good recovery, especially in the second half.

“Projects and construction markets have begun to show modest recovery, boosted arguably by the Waste Framework Directive,” he said.

“But the much anticipated appeal decision on the low level waste planning application will be the biggest driver of the shares in the next two months.”

The shares closed up 1.9 per cent last night at 27.5p.

“We believe these were a good set of results considering the headwinds faced in the period including poor weather, an accident at Cannock and the closure for upgrade at Port Clarence,” said Mr Murphy.

The Cannock accident in November involved an explosion on one of the gas collection plants.

Two members of staff were admitted to hospital but are now back at work.

Mr Blackler said Augean is working with the regulator to find the root cause of the incident. The site is still open but the gas collection plant where the explosion took place will remain offline until the fourth quarter.

The Health and Safety Executive is conducting an ongoing investigation into the causes, and Augean has also undertaken its own internal review.