The red mud catastrophe could be followed by a social one if aluminium company MAL fails to pay its HUF 1.4 billion (EUR 4.90 million) bill, Ajka-based power plant Bakonyi Erõmû warned on Wednesday. CEO Frigyes Németh said energy supplies to the aluminium company would be cut off if no debt settlement is reached, with 6,000 jobs at risk if MAL’s production is suspended.
Németh said Bakonyi Erõmû had helped ensure MAL’s continuous operation by restoring energy supplies immediately after the 2010 catastrophe as a gesture of goodwill, but that Bakonyi Erõmû cannot continue to finance MAL. The power plant’s ability to provide heating to Ajka’s residents from the autumn onwards is endangered by MAL’s debt, Németh said, adding that the two sides are in constant talks.
Ten people were killed and hundreds injured when a damaged waste pool at MAL’s aluminium plant in Ajka, southwest of Budapest, broke on 4 October 2010, spilling a million cubic metres of red mud, a highly alkaline mixture of heavy metal and chemicals. Several localities were affected by the sludge, which destroyed dozens of homes and affected an overall area of 40 square kilometres.
MAL was then handed a HUF 135 billion (EUR 472.24 million) fine, enough to put it out of business, by environmental protection authorities, prompting company director Lajos Tolnay to offer to sell a 50 per cent stake to the government last September in exchange for a symbolic HUF 1,000 (EUR 3.49) and the right to continue operation.