Undecided over arguments placed by National Aluminum Company (Nalco) and State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) on whether to permit the height increase of the aluminum maker's ash pond tanks, Debi Prasad Mishra, minister of forest and environment of Orissa government has sought an expert committee opinion over the issue.
“The minister agreed to have a third opinion from any reputed IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), to be referred by SPCB,” Nalco said in a press note after its discussion with the state government over ash disposal system on Monday.
Nalco has been demanding that the state government should grant permission for raising the levels of its ash pond dykes from 107 meter to 110 meter given less available space for disposal, which has been vehemently objected by the SPCB citing the report of the Ash Pond Safety committee.
The state-run aluminum producer has been facing the ire of state pollution watchdog since last October for not taking steps to dispose huge volume of ash amid frequent ash pond leaks, that has led to public protests in the neighbouring areas.
Nalco's ash pond - A, has been completely used or filled, and the ash pond - B, has developed cracks and has limited space for ash disposal. The SPCB has said if Nalco does not take any long-term steps, then its existing system would exhaust by May 2012.
Though Nalco has taken steps to build another ash pond tank and has plans to build a pipeline to carry the ash to fill up void coal mines in nearby areas, the pollution control board says the plan would take another one and half a years to get implemented.
In the discussion, the minister also suggested that Nalco's coal-fired plant ash could be utilised in construction of roads, such as Puri-Cuttack national highway, Sambalpur-Manguli national highway and Angul-Chhendipada-Budhapal state highway.
Nalco's captive power plant for its Angul smelting facility has a production capacity of nearly 1,200MW. At present, it is producing around 720 MW power. Power production is crucial for any the aluminium producing complex as it usually constitutes 35 per cent of total cost of aluminum production.