Page last updated at 05:54 GMT, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 06:54 UK

Metal plant on track after fire

Cleaning work continues at the fire-damaged plant.

By Wena Alun Owen
BBC news

Arriving at the Anglesey Aluminium plant, near Holyhead on Anglesey, is a bit like getting to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

The sheer scale of the place is overwhelming.

There is a zero tolerance policy towards workplace accidents, and all visitors undergo a safety induction course explaining some of the processes involved on site.

It all adds to the strangeness of the whole experience. Solid aluminium looks the same hot and cold so - NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING WITHOUT ASKING - very chocolate factory advice.

Employing 515 staff, with an additional 50 contractors, the plant is a major employer in the area.

A serious fire on 12 June this year nearly resulted in the closure of the whole place, and even now three months later, production is still not back to full capacity.

David Bloor
There is no reason (for Anglesey Aluminium) not to go on for another 30-40 years
David Bloor, managing director

Managing director David Bloor said the fire started after an electricity transformer failed and an insulator caught fire.

Although not in the actual aluminium production area, it meant the power had to be switched off to the whole plant

The aluminium, which is heated up to 900 degrees centigrade, began to 'freeze' as the temperature fell to around 600 degrees centigrade.

This 'freezing' metal became unworkable and the job of digging it out and cleaning the affected areas is still going on.

Mr Bloor said the fact the company decided the plant was worth saving showed that it was "committed" to staying on the island.

The plant itself covers 250 acres - and the company also owns another 400 acres next to the site.

Part of this is run as a country park for the benefit of local people, and part of it is rented out - there is farm land, houses, and a cricket pitch.

For the shed sizes on site try to imagine buildings so big they make articulated trucks look like little mini vans.

Aluminium plant rises from ashes

The whole set-up - if you discount the dust - is like a massive mediaeval kitchen.

Overhead cranes move massive saucepan-like 'pots' carrying molten metals.

Even the workers wear silver 'aprons' to deflect the heat.

Terms used during production are also reminiscent of a hot stove.

The 'pots' in one part, the metal is 'skimmed' in another.

The metal itself is first made in 'pots' of which there are 316.

It is these 'pots' which were affected when the metal cooled at the time of the fire.

Around a third were saved and the other 211 are in the process of being cleaned out.

Cat food tins

The finished metal comes out in either billet, used for window and door frames and produced by pouring molten metal into seven metre deep channels, or rolling ingot, used for everything from tin foil to cat food tins.

In fact the rolling ingot does look like giant grey-coloured chocolate bars.

At the time of the fire workers rushed in to work to try and help.

It was a 'do you remember what you were doing when the fire broke out' kind of scenario.

The MD was jogging along a path by the plant when he saw smoke.

"I though 'that doesn't look right' so I sprinted back home, and as I got there the phone was ringing."

Team leader Meirion Taylor was on his way out when he saw the smoke.

'Huge demand'

"I never imagined it was from here, I thought it was a house fire or something.

"It was one of the biggest shocks of my life," he added.

Production manager Claire Archer said she heard the news in a phone call.

"It has been a challenge over the past three months," she said.

Despite the difficulties however the company is optimistic about the future.

"It is no exaggeration to say that grown men walked out of here in tears on the night of the fire," said Mr Bloor.

"Many thought that was the end, and it was a shock.

"But there is a bright future for aluminium."

The issue of power still has to be sorted out however, and is "basically a commercial issue".

The plant is currently run on electricity produced by the Wylfa Nuclear Power Station situated nearby.

Wylfa is due to close in 2010 however, and as yet there has been no decision on whether a Wylfa B may be built - or indeed any another source of electricity.

"We are looking at any and every option to get alternative power," said Mr Bloor.

"There is a huge demand for aluminium around the world though, especially in China and India.

"There is no reason (for Anglesey Aluminium) not to go on for another 30-40 years," he added.


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