10 September 2002 13:29 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CNI)--The western European chlorine industry could face costs of up to Euro330m ($325m) in the disposal of surplus mercury as it phases out the mercury-cell process in production, according to a report by the European Commission (EC).
Estimates by Swedish authorities for ‘definitive storage’ - the terminal storage of mercury deep down in bedrock - are Euro15-22/kg mercury, excluding pre-treatment costs. The report concluded that decommissioning western Europe's 47 mercury-based chlor-alkali plants would generate about 12 000-15 000 tonne of mercury, translating into costs of around Euro180m-330m.
This would increase by 6-10% industry association Euro Chlor's estimate of Euro3.1bn in total costs for shifting from mercury-cell plants. Euro Chlor based its estimate on a typical cost of Euro530/tonne of chlorine production capacity and a total mercury-based chlorine capacity of 5.86m tonne in western Europe in 2001.
The EC report said that the ‘definitive storage’ method would be the optimal solution from an environmental point of view as emissions from mercury are stopped and much less energy is used by the industry.
However, it warned that appropriate methods are not yet fully developed and costs are relatively high. The ‘polluter pays’ principle might be applied but this could affect the competitiveness of the European chloralkali industry in comparison with non-European competitors, it added.
Apart from ‘definitive storage’, the EC report also outlined two other options for disposing of mercury – re-use and ‘intermediate storage’.
In the case of re-use, mercury could be redeployed in the remaining mercury–cell plants that close down at a later date, sold on the open market or sold to the Almaden mercury mine in Spain.
Under the ‘intermediate storage’ method, mercury will be stored safely for an unknown period of time until a strategy for re-use and/or safe disposal is available. This could be done at the Almaden mine in Spain or elsewhere where there is appropriate storage capacity.
The report said the phase-out of mercury-cells has already started and will continue ‘for at least a decade’.
It added that the precise timetable will depend on the how European Union (EU) member states interpret and implement the European Council’s Integrated Pollution Prevention and Collection (IPPC) Directive and the Olso and Paris Convention (OSPAR), which recommends the phase-out of mercury cells by 2010.
The Commission's report was produced in response to a request from the European Council. It had asked the Commission to clarify the legal situation regarding conversion to more environmentally friendly methods of chloralkali production. The Council also requested the Commission to identify the possible consequences for use of mercury from decommissioned plants and report on the potential need for co-ordinated action in the EU and countries soon to join the union.
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