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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"Extremely stringent environmental tests"
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Saturday, 3 June, 2000, 04:32 GMT 05:32 UK
BSE carcasses burned for electricity
Half a million tonnes of cattle remains are to be incinerated
By BBC environment correspondent Tim Hirsch

Every day, a fleet of bright red 40-tonne lorries travels up and down the UK's motorways carrying a cargo most of us would prefer not to think about: the dried remains of nearly a million cattle slaughtered each year under the anti-BSE protection measures.

But someone has got to think about it, and we're all still paying for it - the cull of all cattle aged over 30 months has cost us more than 2bn since it was introduced in 1996.

It has created a mountain of some 460,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal (MBM) which has to be disposed of.

Until now, virtually all of it has been piling up in secure storage sheds, the biggest of which is on the edge of an RAF base at Barkston Heath near Grantham in Lincolnshire - the converted aircraft hangars are stuffed full with nearly 100,000 tonnes of MBM.

Waste stockpile

Each 26-tonne lorryload of the brown, sand-like powder contains the remains of around 200 cattle, mostly dairy cows which have reached the end of their milking lives.

But a start is finally being made in getting that enormous stockpile down.

An hour's drive to the North of that store, on an industrial estate outside Scunthorpe, a power station which used to burn poultry waste has now converted to MBM incineration.

The Fibrogen plant at Flixborough has just come on stream, and already generates enough electricity to power a small town.

Around 250 tonnes of the meat and bone meal are burned each day - the grisly fuel is delivered into an enclosed shed and checked by inspectors wearing body protection and breathing filters.

It is then fed up along a system of covered conveyor belts into a furnace, producing steam which turns the power turbines.

About a quarter of the volume of the MBM remains as ash, which is captured and sent off to landfill sites.

The cattle producing this material are not confirmed BSE cases - those are cremated separately in special plants.

Pollution concern

But since some cows will have been infected without developing the disease, the Fibrogen plant has to meet strict rules set down by the Environment Agency designed to ensure that nothing dangerous escapes into the atmosphere.

They include a requirement that all the fuel must be subjected to at least 850 degrees C for a minimum of two seconds.

The plant's managing director Rupert Fraser says that means the risks to the public are infinitesimally small - and it performs an important service by using up the cattle waste.

But some local residents are not convinced by those reassurances, and mounted an unsuccessful campaign to prevent the power station from being allowed to operate.

Even with its capacity to burn 85,000 tonnes of MBM a year, the Fibrogen plant alone does not even keep up with the new waste material being produced by the slaughter.

It is only when two new incinerators come on stream later in the year that a serious dent will start to be made in the stockpile.

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See also:

08 May 00 | Health
BSE 'spread through cowpats'
08 Mar 00 | Europe
BSE fears increase
29 Feb 00 | Europe
Alarm at Danish BSE case
30 Dec 99 | Europe
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