Lightning Strike Sparks Safety Concerns at Oxfordshire Recycling Plant


When a bolt from the blue struck a food waste recycling plant in Oxfordshire, it triggered a gaseous eruption. Severn Trent Green Power, the firm operating the plant, suffered only minor damages which were confined mostly to the tops of three containers. While there were no casualties, this incident has raised alarming questions about the efficacy of the existing lightning protection at the facility.

Back in June, the firm had been given the nod to establish a lightning protection mast. The company, although staying mum about whether this mast had been set up before the incident, has reassured that it operates its Cassington site as per all prevailing industry norms. Concurrently, the statement released negates any negligence on their part, for they had in place ample lightning and earthing protection for their biogas tanks. However, as a safety measure, an on-site inspection has been arranged by the Health and Safety Executive.

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The purpose of the facility is to process commercial food waste, which includes packaged goods. The installation of a 22m lightning protection mast was deemed necessary for it could dramatically minimise the danger of a lightning strike impacting the vital digester tanks and the infrastructure. As a precaution, lightning protection is seen as a prime requirement at anaerobic digestor sites like the Cassington plant.

Severn Trent Green Power, known for being the largest producer of renewable energy from food waste across England and Wales, manages ten other anaerobic digester facilities along with five composting sites.

In the wake of the mishap, parts of the plant have resumed to normal functionality and repairs have been carried out primarily on the tops of three containers. The company spokesperson went on to mention that the situation, being well within industry standards, was safely brought under control without further delay. The company plans to actively cooperate with emergency services in order to gain more insights into the lightning strike.

Interestingly, the industry body, the Anaerobic Digestion Bioresources Association, has voiced its intent to conduct a comprehensive review to establish if standards need to be reinforced given the increased frequency of severe weather conditions.

In addition, the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is also conducting an investigation into possible steps that could prevent the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.

It is important to note that in 2016, a lightning strike set ablaze methane stored in a waste digester operated by Agrivert at Benson, near Wallingford, resulting in a fire that endured for 20 minutes and devastated the roof of the digester. This incident, along with the recent one, suggests there may be an emerging pattern attesting to the need for stronger safety measures within the industry.