Coal is the UK’s second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions after gas and is also a major source of water pollution.
The National Grid says that coal-fired power stations are the worst offenders, accounting for 42 per cent of the total water pollution in the UK.
In January 2017, the country’s biggest coal-burning power station, Ashfield, was closed down after it leaked toxic fumes into nearby streams and rivers.
The power station’s owner has been fined £250,000, and the local authority has since asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to examine how the plant was operated and regulated.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it had received information that the plant’s operation had been “extremely poorly managed” in the last few years, with staff failing to keep a safe distance from coal fires and using unsafe equipment.
“The plant was in the process of being demolished when it was found that it was a dangerous and environmentally destructive fuel,” it said in a statement.
“We now need to understand how the electricity system was operated at the time of the fire, and why it failed to adequately protect public health and the environment.”
The Department for Environment, Climate Change and Food (Defrac) said the power station had been closed down because of “significant problems with the operation of the plant and a lack of training and oversight”.
Defrac has now opened an inquiry into the fire at Ashfield.
The department said the inquiry would look at how the power plant was designed and operated and how it was able to meet its targets for emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, while protecting people’s health and environment.
The company, which owns the Ashfield plant, said the company would be launching a new, better, and more efficient generation facility in the next few months.
In April 2017, a report by a consultant found that the Ashfields coal-power station had become the worst-performing power station in the country.
The report, commissioned by the National Grid, found that there were “significant and systemic issues” in operation of coal-fire safety equipment.
The consultant, Mark Aiken, said that the company had “failed to provide the required training and supervision for its employees and the general public”.
The Department said that it “would not tolerate” the company’s “serious and widespread” failures in managing the operation and maintenance of its coal-powered power station.
“There has been a significant and systemic failure of the Ashford Coal-Power Station to meet the stringent environmental requirements of the Electricity Market Reform Act,” it added.