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Didcot Power Station proposes new ecological solution for ash disposal

RWE npower, which manages and operates Didcot power station, has announced it had proposed a new ecological solution for the disposal of ash created in the electricity generation process.

The company’s new proposal, submitted on 30 January 2006, to Oxfordshire County Council, would avoid the infill and restoration of the ‘Lake F’ gravel extraction pit in Radley, known locally as Bullfield Lake.

In June 2005 the company sought approval to fill Lakes F (Bullfield) and E (Thrupp) at Radley with pulverised fuel ash (PFA) which results from burning coal.

RWE npower has had planning permission since 1982 to fill the former gravel pits at Radley with PFA, which were regarded as an eyesore when first created. The older sites, however, have since developed their own ecology. In response to concerns raised during the consultation process, RWE npower has submitted a new application which would guarantee not to fill Lake F, the more ecologically mature of the two lakes.

Station manager John Rainford said, “Didcot Power Station is a vital part of the country’s power generation network. The demand for electricity creates the need for a 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week option for disposing of the ash that industry has no use for. Infill of the old gravel pits has been a good solution environmentally, avoiding the need to send hundreds of heavy-laden lorries every day out of Didcot.

Our intial plans, which we maintain are sound, included a restoration programme; in fact scarce birds, insects and plants are thriving on previously restored lakes. However we do recognise that Lake F (Bullfield Lake) in particular has developed some mature ecology of interest to many Radley residents.

We have gone back to our engineers and ecologists and found a different way round. This means we can avoid using Lake F for infill and we also propose to keep some public access to the ecologiclly restored areas.

The company needs to dispose of 500,000 tonnes of the non-hazardous ‘pulverised fuel ash’ and the new solution will enable that capacity to be taken by Lake E.

Following the works at Lake E the plans allow for an extensive ecological restoration. This would include:

  • Retaining sections of mature trees.
  • The retention of an ecologically developed land bank between Lake E and Lake F.
  • The creation of a shallow lagoon providing a habitat for water birds and waders.
  • An island retained in the centre of the lagoon as a nesting habitat for birds such as the little ringed plover, lapwing and terns.
  • Native Oxfordshire woodland planting (alder, grey willow, crack willow, ash and osier).
  • An amphibian pond.
  • A raised sandbank to provide burrowing sites for kingfisher, sand martin and invertebrates.
  • A ‘wet ditch’ providing a potential water vole habitat, and protecting ground-nesting birds from predation by pets (the area has become commonly used for dog-walking).

John Rainford said every effort would be taken to minimise disruption from the works themselves: “Before drainage occurs a fish rescue will take place in consultation with the local authorities. Temporary fences will be erected before works begin to protect some areas of trees around Lake E and F. Meanwhile we will have strict limits on construction hours and we will not be obstructing public rights of way,” he said.

The company said it was looking for an appropriate partner to manage a nature reserve on the site in the future.


1. RWE npower recycles around 50% of its fuel ash to be used constructively in industry, for instance in building projects. Unfortunately, although the ash is not hazardous, it is classified as a waste. This means extra regulations are attached which can make it too expensive and time consuming for companies to take. This also rules out its use in so called ‘grouting’ operations, for instance filling in old mine workings.

2. RWE npower has opened a new ash processing plant at Didcot. The £3 million investment will enable more of the station’s pulverised fuel ash (PFA) to be recycled for use in the building industry. The equipment has been developed and manufactured by Separation Technologies Inc (STI) of Boston USA who will operate the reprocessing plant in partnership with RWE npower. It is the first of its type to be installed in England and will be capable of processing 125,000 tonnes of PFA per year for sale into new markets.

3. Planning permission has existed since 1982 at the two lakes in question for the disposal of ash. RWE npower applied for planning permission for filling Lake E and F in June 2005 and asked Oxfordshire County Council for Deferment in the decision of this application in September so we could address all the concerns raised during the consultation process. The application for Lake E only is a new application and in addition to the application for lake E and F. The two lakes (E and F) potentially have the capacity to take up to 600,000 tonnes of ash. The new application for Lake E only will include engineering to provide the same overall capacity.

4. RWE npower has an excellent track record in careful relocation of protected species. This is something we take very seriously and we would continue to follow the best recommended approaches to dealing with any protected species on the site.

Link to Original Press Release
[Update 17 February 2006]
The application has gone to public consultation. See News Item.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.radleyvillage.org.uk/didcot-power-station-proposes-new-ecological-solution-for-ash-disposal/