A coalition of advocacy groups say they are willing to do “whatever it takes” to stop rock-blasting at the bauxite refining site at Aughinish Alumina in Co Limerick.
Tim Hannon, a spokesperson for the grouping and a resident of the area immediately surrounding the chemical plant, said the group is “extremely determined" to the blasting from going ahead at the site.
He was speaking at a press event in Dublin to discuss a planning application by Aughinish Alumina to expand its disposal site for the ‘red mud’ created as a by-product from the bauxite refining process.
The event was followed by a small protest outside the gates of Dáil Éireann attended by a number of TDs.
Aughinish Alumina is the largest such refinery in Europe, employing 400 people. It emerged in March of last year that the plant currently uses 11% of the total gas demand in Ireland on any given day.
The company has also expressed support for the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals in Ireland.
For every tonne of aluminium created at the plant, two tonnes of ‘red mud’ is created as a byproduct. At present, the lake of mud covers a 450-acre site next to the Shannon estuary, visible via satellite.
The company applied last December to An Bord Pleanála via its owner Rusal for planning permission to raise the maximum height of that site – known as its bauxite residue disposal area, or BRDA – to 44m and to raise its salt cake levels – a hazardous material – to a new maximum height of 35m.
Expanding the BRDA will involve expanding the company’s borrow pit – in essence a hole dug to be filled with the gravel and earth displaced during a construction project – to facilitate the blasting of rock required in order to expand the BRDA itself.
A decision on that application had been due for delivery by mid-June but remains pending.
The groups who have come together in protest at the prospect of rock blasting at the Aughinish site include Futureproof Clare, Friends of the Irish Environment, Slí Eile, and the Cappagh Farmers Support Group, whose founder Pat Geoghegan has long campaigned against the facility.
Mr Hannon told the event at the Teachers Club in Dublin – which heard from academic experts regarding the potential pollutant effects of bauxite refineries – that the Aughinish facility “towers like a monster over the surrounding area”.
He said that “right now the group’s priority is to prevent rock blasting from taking place, to make sure that the current environmental catastrophe doesn’t turn into a calamity”.
He said the mud pond currently in place at Aughinish “resembles the surface of Mars”.
“The reason you can see it on Google Maps is because nothing can grow on it. This stuff is incompatible with life, under no circumstances should it be allowed to expand,” Mr Hannon said.
The meeting acknowledged that “jobs are the biggest argument for these projects”, in reference to the 450 workers employed at the Aughinish plant.
“These jobs are there at the moment,” Mr Hannon said. “But they won’t always be, and Rusal doesn’t care about the people from west Limerick,” he added.