Home » UK’s first rare earth processing facility at Saltend – planning concerns

UK’s first rare earth processing facility at Saltend – planning concerns

PENSANA Rare Earths PLC is proposing to build a new processing facility on a site at the Saltend Chemicals Park. It will be the UK’s first rare earth materials processing facility. But there are early problems with planning.

PENSANA Rare Earths PLC is proposing to build a new processing facility on a 22-acre site at the Saltend Chemicals Park. It will be the UK’s first rare earth materials processing facility.

In its planning application, the company says it will aim to produce 4,500 tonnes of Rare Earth Oxides which will be subject to further treatment prior to subsequent use as magnets. Those rare earth magnets will then be used within the renewable industries sector. During operation, the facility will support up to 100 jobs.

The facility will process imported rare earth elements mined in Angola in Africa, and the raw materials will be used in the manufacture of permanent magnets for use within wind turbines and electric vehicles motors. The applicant claims these industries will be critical to the UK transforming from a hydrocarbon-based society to a greener energy-based producer.

The new processing facility will consist of storage tanks, a processing unit along with its supporting equipment such as mixers, pumps, heat exchangers, agitators, mixing pots, separation equipment and solvent extraction to produce the rare metal oxides

The planning application validated on 20 Jan 2021 has raised several concerns. For a ‘green’ initiative, the first concern is surprising; that is the potential radioactivity of the rare earth materials concerned. A Parliamentary briefing paper published in 2011 noted potential undesirable environmental impacts surrounding their production (see box).

This is an issue also raised locally by PADEL’s (Paull Against Development on the Enterprise Land) Andrew Nicholson who said:

“There is an area of major vulnerability in renewable technologies – the radioactive pollution produced by developing the rare earth elements essential for today’s hi-tech devices. Electric cars, batteries, energy efficient lighting, smartphones, solar panels, wind turbines and so on all need some of the 17 mineral elements classed as rare earth. The mining and processing of these elements can produce radioactive waste.”

A major concern is the radioactivity of materials which are nearly always found with rare earths. Refinement processes also often involve chemicals such as sulphuric and hydrofluoric acid. Lax regulation and illegal mining operations have resulted in these aspects posing significant hazards to the local environment, causing illness and occupational poisoning of workers and residents, and polluting land and water. Like most other mining operations, rare earth mining uses a considerable amount of energy, often generated by coal fired power stations. Also when products containing rare earths are scrapped, the rare earths may be released into the environment, and the effects of this release are not well understood

Parliamentary briefing Rare Earth Metals January 2011 (PDF)

The applicant notes that the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Report for the Saltend Chemicals Park site will need to be modified to reflect the proposed new facility, but there is no mention in the application materials of any radioactivity risks, or perceived risks, and mitigations.

There are also other current concerns regarding the planning application although it is still early on in the planning process.

The Environment Agency notes that the proposal involves an installation requiring hazardous substances consent and is located in an area that is highly vulnerable to flood risk. The current proposal says that effluent from the proposed facility will be treated and managed either within the Saltend Chemicals Park systems or via the Yorkshire Water Treatment works. The Agency recommends the applicant submits a revised flood risk assessment and consider how a whole range of potential flooding events (including extreme events) would be managed.

The South Holderness Internal Drainage Board currently objects because of urgent repairs needed at a key culvert near to the site which carries Preston new drain under the INEOS site. The board warns that a collapse of the culvert would be a catastrophe for the local community as the drain is the major outfall for surface water for all the lands to the west of Hedon.

Increased traffic in the area, particularly the impact of construction and commuter traffic in and around Preston, has been raised by Preston Parish Council. While Highways England has stipulated that the production of a Framework Travel Plan will be required for any permission granted. The potential impact of the development upon the strategic road network needs to be assessed.

The lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been raised by Andrew Nicholson from PADEL: “I am concerned at the lack of detailed information in the Environmental Briefing and Design and Access Statement for this significant development and am troubled that it was deemed to not require the scrutiny of a proper EIA. I believe that an Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed processing facility area should be completed to enable the wider population to understand the impact on the local environment and the applicant’s proposed actions to mitigate any of the highlighted EIA issues.”

It is still early days in the planning process. We will follow progress with the planning application.

The documentation and information regarding the planning application are available at the East Riding Public Access website, search for a reference: 21/00153/CM.

3 thoughts on “UK’s first rare earth processing facility at Saltend – planning concerns

  1. I found it instructive to look at the documents associated with the Peak Resources application for a very similar plant on the Teesside Wilton site which was approved by Redcar and Cleveland with planning reference R/2017/0876/FFM.

    There it was intended to use a Tanzanian ore and explicitly mentioned thorium in their detailed Environmental Statement. In their process the impurities of iron and trace amounts of thorium which were present in the filtrate after acid leaching were precipitated with lime to produce a waste filter cake which was to be disposed of with the waste filter cake from an effluent treatment plant amounting to 12,000 tonnes per annum. In their case this was to be sent for landfill at a local hazardous waste landfill site which was identified in the Environmental Statement.. Assessment of the radioactivity levels is needed to determine how this is handled and what regulations apply to it.

    The information currently provided for Saltend is inadequate to determine the application.

    1. A response to concerns regarding the Saltend Separation Facility from Tim George, the CEO of Pensana has been posted on the planning portal.

      It aims to provide reassurance and makes the statement “the imported high purity mixed rare earth sulphate will contain no deleterious elements or radionuclides”.

      I would suggest that East Riding should include this as a condition if they were minded to grant planning permission.

  2. Just to make you aware, and to echo Andrew Nicholson’s concerns, the Ward Members of S W Holderness, Cllrs. John Dennis and Sue Steel were actually invited to a presentation by the applicants in January. This was interesting, but it left quite a lot of doubt in our minds.
    We therefore requested a further briefing with ERYC’s Director of Development and various technical staff and whilst basic information was provided, we need more.
    An area that hasn’t yet been satisfactorily addressed is the chaotic rare-earths mining operations in Africa, and especially China. Whilst it’s not a part of the production process being applied for here, we are seeking reassurances that this company approaches its responsibilities at every stage. Particularly we would like to hear that all the stages of this process are approached with the interests of local people uppermost, both here and abroad,

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