Councillor says big-money deals for medical and radioactive waste are at centre of Viridor’s diesel tank planning application

A Sutton councillor claims that Viridor wants to begin burning medical and radioactive waste at its Beddington Lane incinerator, but that it has withheld these lucrative business plans from its latest application to build a large fuel tank on the site.

Dirty diesel: Viridor’s new fuel tank is required at the Beddington incinerator as part of plans to increase their capacity, claims a councillor

Independent councillor Nick Mattey has submitted 20 pages of objections to the application from the incinerator’s commercial operators to build an additional 11,000-litre fuel storage tank on site.

Among his detailed objections ahead of a council planning committee meeting this Wednesday, Mattey states that having a very large diesel fuel tank close to the incinerator will significantly increase the risk of fires on the site, with potential for damaging environmental and pollution impact.

Mattey claims the planning application under-states the capacity of the tank, and that the move signals Viridor’s intention to use more dirty diesel to get its furnaces up to the kind of temperatures required to burn medical waste and other potentially highly toxic and polluting substances.

Viridor operates the incinerator on the Sutton-Croydon borough boundary on behalf of SLWP, the South London Waste Partnership, the unaccountable local authority quango formed by Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon councils.

SLWP has a 25-year contract with the American-owned business already worth £1billion. Now, it seems, Viridor is looking to improve its corporate profits at the expense of even worse air quality across south London.

Viridor already has an application to vary its licence, increasing its burning capacity at Beddington by 10per cent to 382,000 tonnes per year, lodged with the Environment Agency. It is Viridor’s second application to increase capacity at Beddington Lane in two years, having previously been granted permission for a 15per cent capacity increase in December 2020.

Critical: Nick Mattey

Councillor Mattey believes that within the increased tonnages, Viridor intends to burn medical waste and radioactive waste.

As well as used medical equipment, this could even include human body parts.

Incinerators handling medical waste can charge up to £1,000 per tonne. “Ordinary” domestic or business rubbish brings in less than £116 per tonne for incinerator operators such as Viridor.

Inside Croydon first reported on the incinerator’s capacity for handing radioactive waste in 2011.

This website also obtained a copy of Croydon’s contract with Viridor, which guaranteed payments of £10million per year for 25 years for its share of the incinerator operation, and which included requirements on the operators to be able to handle radioactive and medical waste.

In their planning application for the new tank, a second on the site, Viridor explained that the fuel would be used for “furnace flame”, which starts up the facility before waste is processed.

“The existing tank will be adapted to provide storage for ‘furnace flame’ fuel used for start-up purposes. The proposed fuel tank will store diesel fuel during plant start-up, when required, to maintain operating temperatures.”

In his objection, submitted ahead of the committee meeting, Mattey writes, “The need for such an on-site increase in the quantity of fuel stored specifically for start-up and temperature-maintenance fuel would only be of use if there was going to be a significant increase in the quantity of waste to be incinerated.

“This would be consistent with the reports of plans to increase the quantity of waste to be burnt at the plant.”

Mattey adds that the incinerator plant “has an outline permit for incinerating medical and low-level radioactive waste. For such an incinerator to operate it would need a continuous injection of furnace flame fuel to maintain the very high operating temperatures needed for this type of incineration…

“It is important that if the applicant is making the site ready to burn medical and low-level radioactive waste or to significantly increase the waste throughput, that these matters receive proper consideration. The impacts of the planning application should be considered but the impacts are hard to determine because the applicant has provided little information to explain their reasons for their application and no information on any benefits…

“… If deliveries continue with poor quality fuel [it] would be to enable a significant increase in capacity of the plant and to add the possibility of incineration of medical and low level radioactive at a later date.

“If changes are necessary to enable a capacity increase and function of the plant to be widened to include medical incineration then that purpose should be clearly stated and not hidden so that the impacts, which include transport, air quality and climate considerations, can be carefully considered.

“Uncontrolled fires have already occurred at the plant. Explosions from gas canisters have also occurred. There is a risk of further fires and explosions. The proposed storage of such a large quantity of additional fuel so near the incinerator increases the potential consequences of fires and explosions at the plant.”

There it is in black and white: Croydon’s original contract clause which demands that Viridor be able to dispose of radioactive waste at the Beddington Lane incinerator

A report to the planning committee from the council’s director of environment, Spencer Palmer, has recommended that pliant Sutton should grant permission. The proposal “would not result in any material change in emissions and the facility will continue to operate within the parameters set by the existing permits,” according to Palmer.

“The development would be acceptable in principle and would not have a detrimental impact on the openness of the ‘metropolitan open land’, would respect the local context of the site and would not result in significant harm to the character of the surrounding area or the ‘site of importance for nature conservation’.”

Read more: Cancer warning over radioactive waste plans for incinerator
Read more: ‘Nuclear’ Newman goes radio ga-ga over radioactive deal
Read more: Viridor incinerator given 20 warnings in just 15 months
Read more: Viridor breaking rules over incinerator’s pollution reports

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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3 Responses to Councillor says big-money deals for medical and radioactive waste are at centre of Viridor’s diesel tank planning application

  1. Lewis White says:

    The last paragraph of the Inside Croydon article above says it all…….”A report to the planning committee from the council’s director of environment, Spencer Palmer, has recommended that pliant Sutton should grant permission. The proposal “would not result in any material change in emissions and the facility will continue to operate within the parameters set by the existing permits,” according to Palmer.”

    I assume that Mr Palmer has a way with words– in reality, as revealed by Inside Croydon the emissions at present keep exceeding the approved levels of pollutants.

    Perhaps a plant can -in a strictly argued, legal wording sense – OPERATE within the parameters set by the existing permits” while at the same time the pollutants emitted through the chinmey stack into the air as a result of the operations might regularly EXCEED approved limits.

    This would conveniently make it “true” that there would be no material change in emissions. They will remain unchanged i.e exceed the levels.

    Is it right that the extremely nasty category C types of waste ( as shown in the picture above) are incinerated where the emissions will contaminate the air breathed by hundreds of thousands of people in N Croydon and wider S London ?

    I acknowledge that incineration might indeed be the best way to deal with some of these waste types. Not totally sure about bombs or abandoned vehicles. And the location…Beddington is so close to homes in Croydon, Beddington, Mitcham etc.

    Is it even right that the smell of burning plastic is breathed in by the same people ? As it is now. NO !!!

    Using low grade oil is presumably the cheapest way of making the furnaces burn brighter and hotter. That might — or might not– reduce the troublesome emissions that exceed the approved limits. Or by making the fires burn brighter and hotter, allow this high-value waste to be burned without making the emissions any worse.

    So they remain unchanged. so “More burning bang for the buck”–and more money flowing into the US bank account of Viridor Inc.

    So that’s hunky dory then.

    ps. I wonder if methane from the nearby Beddington landfill, or from the nearby seage works, could have been used to boost the furnaces instead of oil?

    pps. Is it too late for the SW waste Councils to sue Viridor for providing a waste incinerator that was not fit for purpose as it produces emissions in excess of Government limits. What did the original contracts say ??

    ppps. If the councils had paid for the incinerator and it were their property, they would be able to control the operation.

    pppps They can’t.

  2. When the previous owners of Viridor, Pennon, put the business up for sale, they wanted to make it look as profitable as possible. They began “sweating the assets”, making them earn as much money as possible, including the Beddington incinerator.

    The plant is now burning around 350,000 tonnes of waste per year, although Sutton Liberal Democrats announced it would be burning 275,000 tonnes of waste per year.

    While the pollutants released with this increased volume may be within limits in relation to the amount of waste incinerated, the quantity of pollutants released is much larger than those forecast before planning permission was granted.

    If anyone wants details they can email me at

  3. Jim Duffy says:

    Nick is quite right to be concerned that the incinerator might be lined up to burn radioactive waste.

    I spoke about my same concerns at the original Sutton planning meeting (to a round of applause from the audience). The planning document had two paragraphs in it permitting radwaste to be burnt.

    But radiation cannot be detroyed by burning. It will harm those breathing in those active particles.

    I also wrote to the chair of the planning committee and bizarrely was told the plans were for the benefit of residents!

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