London incinerator gives a sneak preview of what’s in store for Norfolk

If everything goes according to plan for Norfolk County Council and preferred bidder Cory Wheelabrator, an energy-from-waste (EfW) incinerator would be up and running in the county in 2015.

The plant, to be called Willows Power and Recycling Centre, at Saddlebow on the edge of King's Lynn, would be burning 268,000 tonnes of waste a year, 170,000 tonnes of it supplied by the county council as part of a 25-year contract.

If approved, the project would be Cory Wheelabrator's second EfW facility in the UK. The first, on the south bank of the Thames at Belvedere in the London borough of Bexley, is due to be fired up next month.

Riverside Resource Recovery Facility, to give it its full title, uses the same technology as the proposed Saddlebow incinerator but is about two-and-a-half times larger.

With an authorised capacity of 670,000 tonnes per year, it is expected to incinerate an average of 585,000 tonnes per year from a number of London boroughs.

In 2002 Cory Environmental, the UK half of the consortium, was awarded a 30-year contract by the Western Riverside Waste Authority to handle more than 500,000 tonnes a year of municipal waste from Lambeth, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. Cory also holds contracts with City of London and Westminster councils.

Most of the waste – between 80 and 85pc – will be brought in along the Thames from Cory's existing transfer station at Walbrook Wharf in the City of London, Cringle Dock in Battersea and Smugglers Way in Wandsworth.

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The waste is placed in sealed containers on barges towed by tugs and unloaded at a specially-built jetty. Cory estimates this will save more than 100,000 heavy vehicle movements a year on London's already congested roads.

The water-borne waste will be loaded on to specialist vehicles and driven the short distance to the tipping hall. Road vehicles will enter the same hall directly by a ramp.

The vehicles will then tip their loads into a vast waste bunker. The rubbish will then be picked up by grabs and deposited into waste hoppers, and from there it is fed into boilers where it is incinerated.

The plant has three streams, dealing with 29.8 tonnes of waste per hour. If approved, the King's Lynn incinerator would have one stream.

Temperatures will be monitored constantly to ensure they stay above 850C and destroy organic compounds, including dioxins.

The heat converts water in the boilers into steam, which then drives a turbine to generate electricity.

The Riverside plant will generate 72MW of electricity. Of this, 66MW will be fed into the national grid with the remainder being used to power the plant.

Waste heat could potentially be used to heat local homes or a nearby business. However, no outlet has yet been found and consultants have concluded that the density of potential consumers is substantially lower than is typical for district heating schemes in the UK, questioning whether a small scheme would be viable.

Because of this, steam will be condensed back into water and fed back into the boilers.

If the King's Lynn plant gets the go-ahead, however, it is possible Palm Paper – whose mill stands next-door – could make use of the steam in the paper-making process. Negotiations are ongoing.

About 180,000 tonnes of bottom ash will be produced at Riverside each year. Once this has been collected it will be loaded into containers and then on to barges before being sent by river for metal recovery and for recycling into road building and construction aggregates. Fly-ash from the plant will be treated and buried in landfill.

Detailed site investigation started in spring 2007 followed that summer by archaeological work. Following improvements to the access road at the start of 2008, work began on building the plant itself and the jetty.

The King's Lynn scheme would be delivered through PFI (private finance initiative), with the help of a �169m government grant, but Riverside has been funded through the banks. Loans of up to �470m have been provided, with Cory providing about �80m of equity finance.

Under the terms of their partnership, Cory will deal with waste operations at Riverside while US firm Wheelabrator will handle the maintenance and operations support. Technology is being supplied by Swiss firm AE&E.

The first waste is due to arrive at Riverside next Wednesday and the first incineration is scheduled for February 23.

Anti-incinerator campaigners argue that a facility in King's Lynn could put health at risk through the emission of dioxins and tiny specks of dust called particulates, which have been linked with health problems including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

They also fear increased lorry movements and argue that incineration discourages the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste.

John Boldon, director of planning and communications at Cory, said those concerns had also been expressed about the Riverside plant.

'We've got exactly the same in Norfolk where people feel it's going to be detrimental to their health and it's going to damage their farmland and it just won't happen,' he said.

'We worked through the whole process and satisfied the planning inspectors and the secretary of state on every single condition.

'We have got this head of steam against us but we genuinely believe that facility in Norfolk can operate in exactly the same way as this and will be safe and not detrimental to the people in Norfolk.'

A Cory Wheelabrator spokesman said: 'Both companies are committed to developing a long and effective partnership in Norfolk. The consortium is already working together to deliver a world-class facility at Riverside in south-east London.

'Wheelabrator brings over 35 years of experience in operating energy-from-waste plants, which provides an excellent synergy to Cory's proven history of delivering waste management services across the UK.'