Smelter closure could come early

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CLOSURE could come earlier than expected at the under-threat Alcan plant.

Bosses at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Lynemouth will decide in the New Year whether to accelerate their closure plans following a disastrous power cut last week.

The blackout happened just before midnight on Tuesday, December 13, and, apart from a brief 40-minute spell in the early hours, power was not restored until 8am the following morning.

The incident has put part of the smelter out of operation and seen production levels plummet.

Corporate Affairs Director John McCabe said: “The situation is that the power plant is operational again, as is part of the smelter, although we have lost production in a significant part of the smelter so we are down in production at this time.

“We weren’t able to get electricity into the smelter for a long period and that has had a very damaging effect on the smelter.

“We are not going to make any decision about the longer-term until the New Year.”

Rio Tinto Alcan announced last month that it would close the smelter and try to find a buyer for the power station.

The company is currently consulting workers and the unions about its plans and has agreed to extend the consultation period until February.

However, Mr McCabe says no credible buyer for the smelter has come forward.

The GMB union has organised a Save Our Smelter online petition calling for Government intervention to try to find a buyer and prevent the closure.

Officials have also met local politicians to discuss what help may be available.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith had a one-to-one meeting with Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to talk about the future of the plant.

He said: “I sought, and was given, assurances that any new buyer for the Alcan smelter would be able to benefit from the support for energy-intensive industries announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

“Clearly, the ideal situation would be to find a buyer for the whole plant, who would enable the smelter and power station to continue operating, but if not, it is important that the jobs at the power station can be retained.”

The GMB petition closes on Friday, January 6. Anyone wishing to sign should visit www.ipetitions.com/petition/sosalcan