'Dirtiest' fuel fury of oil spill community

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National Power has been accused of trying to blackmail a West Wales community, still reeling from the Sea Empress oil disaster, into accepting the burning locally of Orimulsion - dubbed the world's dirtiest fuel.

The alternative, it is claimed, is the closure of Pembroke power station with 150 jobs put at risk. But locals, who saw the area's spectacular coastline ravaged by the recent spill, are outraged by the company's actions.

As a petition signed by more than 100,000 people demanding an independent inquiry into the Sea Empress catastrophe was handed in at 10 Downing Street, campaigners attacked National Power plans to burn Orimulsion and use the Milford Haven port where the supertanker went aground.

John Cutting, who runs a yachting holiday company, said: "The general feeling locally about National Power's plans is one of horror. The Sea Empress has galvanised people into taking action and the company's attempts to pacify us have failed."

Campaigners are wary of assurances about the fuel and are concerned about the prospect of tankers carrying it into Milford Haven. They say that tourism is worth far more to the local economy.

A crucial stage in the fight comes on 2 May when Pembrokeshire County Council's planning committee considers proposals for a new jetty at the port. Opposition groups want councillors to refuse permission and force a public inquiry.

Since last month, no electricity has been produced at the oil-burning power station. Given the go-ahead, National Power says it will invest pounds 500m and reopen the plant in 1999. David Jackson, the station manager, said: "It would be a tragedy if we allowed our proper and natural concern following an ecological disaster to trigger an economic disaster."

Orimulsion is a mix of water and bitumen from huge reserves lying beneath Venezuela. The fuel is produced by Britor, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan State oil company, and - importantly for National Power - is cheap.

National Power - who have engaged in a major public relations campaign - would not discuss figures, but the Pembroke plant could switch to full capacity and be the second largest generating station in the country if it is allowed to burn the controversial fuel.

But Gordon Jones, of Friends of the Earth Cymru, has repeatedly called for the scheme to be rejected believing it to be badly flawed and discredited. "The Sea Empress showed that the authorities were incapable of containing an oil spill. Orimulsion would prove much more difficult to deal with," he warned.

Meanwhile, yesterday's Sea Empress protest at Downing Street was backed by a call in the Commons for a public inquiry by Pembroke's Labour MP, Nick Ainger. So far, the Government has only agreed to an investigation by the Department of Transport's Marine Accident Investigation Branch.