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Industry news: January 2008

Future for Gwynedd slate quarries

Welsh Slate, BGS&copyNERC

After taking over four Alfred McAlpine slate quarries last December the new owners, Rigcycle, have announced they are "very confident and very optimistic" about the future of the business.The company, which bought the quarries for £31 million in December last year, is temporarily trading as Rigcycle, but the name will soon be changed to Welsh Slate.The quarries got into financial trouble in 2007 when Alfred McAlpine found "clear and systematic fraud" in the business. The new owners have told the 220 employees that their jobs are safe and that they expect a profit to be made in 2008.


Investment in Scottish smelter

UK aluminium smelter, BGS&copyNERC

The UK–based company Rio Tinto Alcan has announced a new £45 million investment into its Lochaber aluminium plant near Fort William.The money is for modernisation of the plant and the installation of new hydroelectric turbo–generators to power the smelters. The development is scheduled to begin in 2009 and should be completed by 2012. This will secure the future of the Lochaber site, which employs 180 people.The existing turbines were installed in 1929 and the increase in power generation provided by the new turbines is expected to increase aluminium production from 43 000 tonnes per year to 50 000 tonnes per year.

Source: [no longer available]

How much does it cost the Earth to maintain your lifestyle?

A new web resource from the British Geological Survey clearly shows how we all continue to depend on mineral resources to maintain our lifestyles.

Over a lifetime, each one of us will consume about 35 lorry–loads of minerals and metals. The average person in the UK uses around 10 tonnes of minerals and metals every year.This includes the minerals needed to build our homes and manufacture all our household possessions, as well as the minerals, metals and fuels used in our industrial, retail, transport, leisure, health and public sectors.

A new web resource has been created by the British Geological Survey (BGS) to provide information to the non–specialist on minerals.The Minerals & you web pages were launched at the Annual Meeting of the Mineral Deposit Studies Group on 3rd January 2008 at the BGS site in Keyworth, Nottingham and can be found on the MineralsUK website at

"Minerals are essential to our modern lifestyle – if it can't be grown, it has to be mined.These pages show that, despite massive increases in recycling, minerals and metals are vital components in our lives, used to make everything from mobile phones and cars to houses and roads" says Andrew Bloodworth, Head of Science for Minerals at the British Geological Survey.

The extraction of minerals inevitably has an impact on the environment.The Minerals & you web pages explain the importance of careful planning of mineral extraction, mine and quarry restoration and the sustainable use of resources, including recycling, reusing, and conserving energy. are and gives a summary of how mineral deposits are formed and developed for use by all of us.Users can see what a lifetime's supply of minerals and metals looks like and learn why these are so important to all of us.

Closure of the last of Wales's deep coal mines

Colliery head works, BGS&copyNERC

Tower Colliery, the last of Wales's deep coal mines, has been forced to close due to depleted reserves.The mine, which ceased operations on January 25, has a unique history: it was initially closed in 1994 during the privatisation of the coal industry but was reopened a year later after 240 of the miners invested their redundancy money to buy the pit. Some of the 375 jobs at Tower Colliery are expected to be saved by a joint venture with the nearby Aberpergwm drift mine which will employ around 70 miners and another local drift mine, the Unity mine, will take another 50 miners.The future of the 480 acre Tower Colliery site will be decided by the miners who own it; possibilities include leisure, retail and housing in an effort to create jobs in the area.

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Legal blow for quarry plans

UK sand and gravel quarry, BGS&copyNERC

Plans for any quarrying at the controversial Tarmac – and Hanson Aggregates – owned Gillies Hill site, Cambusbarron, have suffered a blow as Sterling councillors have stated that any new operations must undergo an EIA before quarrying can start.The site already has planning permission dating back to 1982 but councillors decided that any new operations must conform to modern planning regulations. Quarrying at Gillies Hill ceased in the early 1990s and local campaigners strongly oppose re–opening the site on account of its historical significance, playing a part in the battle of Bannockburn, and that it is home to endangered animals. A spokesman from Hanson Aggregates has stated they are aware of the sensitivities of the site and they have no plans to quarry there.


New nuclear plants for the UK

Dounreay nuclear power station, BGS&copyNERC

The Government has approved plans for the building of new nuclear power plants in the UK to replace existing coal and nuclear power sites due to close in the next 20 years.The Government has stated that it will not build any power stations itself and there will be no subsidies for private companies. However, measures will be introduced to encourage the construction of new nuclear power plants, such as speeding up the planning process and not limiting the amount of power a site can produce, and to store waste at an interim facility until suitable permanent storage is found. A new independent body to monitor decommissioning costs will be set up.

Several companies including E.ON and Centrica have already expressed interest in building new nuclear power plants. French–owned EDF Energy has said it plans to build four nuclear power plants in the UK by 2017.

Environmental campaigner Greenpeace is strongly objecting to the plans and has already stalled government proposals for new nuclear power stations after a legal challenge led the High Court to rule that the 2006 energy review was “flawed” and “misleading”. Greenpeace claims that 10 new reactors would only cut the UK's carbon emissions by four per cent after 2025.

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Step forward in development of new UK coal–fired power station

Coal fired power station, BGS&copyNERC

Medway County Council has given their approval for the construction of a new coal–fired power station at the Kingsnorth site, near Rochester.The company E.ON UK has made an application to build two new cleaner coal units at Kingsnorth and demolish the existing power plant.The plans now wait a decision from central government and, if successful, could lead to the construction of the first coal–fired power station to be built in the UK for 24 years. E.ON claims that the new power station would be 20 per cent cleaner then the old one and could become the UK's first clean carbon demonstration plant with its carbon emissions captured and stored in depleted oil fields under the North Sea.

The environmental campaigner Greenpeace has strongly opposed the plans calling it “dinosaur technology”. It stated that carbon capture and storage was not yet a viable technology and that this would “undermine the government's commitment to meet European targets for producing 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.”


New EU renewable energy targets

Wind turbine, BGS&copyNERC

The European Commission has announced new plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to increase renewable power generation by asking the UK to cut overall emissions by 16 per cent and to make renewable energy count for 15 per cent of UK energy generation by 2012.This is part of a wider plan to cut European emissions by 20 per cent in the next 12 years.These targets could be challenging for the UK as renewable energy generation accounted for just 1.3 per cent in 2005. Environment Secretary Hillary Benn has said “we are confident we can do it” and has cited projects such as the London array and a tidal barrage across the Severn as contributing to meeting the new targets.


Progress for Scottish gold mine

Gold sample, BGS&copyNERC

The company, Scotgold, which plans to open a gold mine at Cononish, 90km north of Glasgow, has announced successfully raising £2.2 million via their initial public offering launched in November 2007. Scotgold, which listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in January, now wants to fast–track plans to bring the mine at Cononish into production. Scotgold's first objective is to undertake an assessment of the known mineralisation, with the aim of determining a JORC–compliant resource in the first quarter of 2008. Scotgold hope to add value to any gold extracted by marketing it as “unique” Scottish gold.