The manufacturing unit of the state-run National Aluminium Company Limited (NALCO) now faces a serious threat of being closed down on account of its inability to manage massive amounts of fly ash.

In a letter addressed to B.L. Bagra, NALCO's chairman-cum-MD, the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) said it will be forced to close down its 1,200 MW-capacity Captive Power Plant, critical for running a smelter unit at Angul in Odisha, unless the company takes up the disposal of fly ash on a war-footing.

A company official said the letter contained a strong warning from the pollution regulatory agency.

“Over the past three years, we have been expressing our grave concerns on the problem of ash management in your Captive Power Plant (CPP) at Angul. With the present options available with you, I apprehend it would not be possible to find space for ash disposal beyond May 2012,” Siddhanta Das, SPCB member-secretary, wrote.

“Your lean slurry disposal system is not likely to be operational before mid-2013, the high concentration slurry disposal system is also not likely to be put in place in the near future and going by the report of the Ash pond safety committee, we are not inclined to allow any further raising of dykes of the existing ash ponds,” Mr. Das said.

He said “unless you come up with some mechanism for large-scale evacuation of ash from the existing ponds immediately, you will be left with no option but to close down the Captive Power Plant in a matter of three to four months.”

The SPCB advised the company to pursue the matter with the National Highway Authority of India and the Works Department of the Odisha government for utilising ash for construction of new roads, which as such is a mandatory requirement as per the Fly Ash Notification issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests under The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Impracticable

However, evacuation of fly ash would seem to be an impracticable solution since NALCO generates about 700 truckloads on a daily basis. Company sources said unless there was a prior demand from the infrastructure sector, it would be difficult to remove the fly ash.

The warning has been served after a continuous monitoring of NALCO's efforts to dispose of the ash.

It is to be noted that NALCO had made a presentation at the SPCB's office here on March 25, 2010, on the steps taken by the company for safe and proper management of the existing ash pond system and an action plan for the future.

The company promised to complete the strengthening work in the dyke of ash pond II by December 2010, setting up a high-concentration slurry disposal system on allocated 46 acres by May 15, 2010, and a tendering process for the disposal of fly ash in lean slurry form in the mine void of the Bharatpur open cast mine by the end of March 2010.

However, during the SPCB's inspection of the ash pond system on September 19, 2011, none of the promises was fully kept.