Nitrogen tanks used in rare disease research could ‘obliterate’ Tillbrook part of Milton Keynes warns councillor

A councillor who warned that tanks of liquid nitrogen stored near homes in her ward could ‘obliterate’ residents in Milton Keynes if they exploded was told that health and safety is not a matter for council planners

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 12:29 pm
The site in Tillbrook

The company, UK Biobank, in Java Park, Bradbourne Drive, has used liquid nitrogen at a temperature below -150C for some time in carrying out research into rare diseases and had applied to planners for permission to put two more tanks in place.

“If they go awry, it would obliterate the local area and residents’ houses,” said Cllr Alice Jenkins (Cons, Danesborough & Walton) at Thursday’s Development Control Panel. “Any risk of explosion is far too great and residents are worried.”

She added that the storage tanks would be in “startling proximity to residents’ houses” and that locals had not been aware of one already on site. She said there had been an example of such a tank blowing up.

The site in Tillbrook

But Phil Eeles, of UK Biobank, said: “We abide by a code of excellence and carry out research into rare diseases. Liquid nitrogen is used for the storage of biological samples at temperatures below -150C. ”

He said that a nitrogen tank had exploded in Japan in the 1990s but only because there had been “catastrophic failures” in procedures.

He said that the storage tanks in Tillbrook would have a pressure equivalent to that of a domestic car tyre. The tanks have safety values to prevent pressure building.

Mr Eeles added that the company complies with all the legislation and that it is “imperative” for the business to have the facilities. “We require the continued operation of the tanks,” he said.

Planning officer Luke Gledhill told the committee that the Health and Safety Executive, and the council’s own health departments have no concerns.

But he added that because health and safety is not controlled by the council, it was not a matter that the committee could consider as a planning matter anyway. Cllr John Bint, the panel chairman, said that the future of the company was also not an issue councillors could consider.

“We are not allowed to consider the bulk of the reasons we have heard from the applicant and the objector,” he said. The decision had been called to the committee by Cllr Jenkins.

Former lorry driver, Cllr Terry Baines (Cons, Campbell Park and Old Woughton) said there are other nitrogen tanks in the city, at the Waitrose in Brinklow but they were also not of concern.

“A pressure of between 1.5 and 3 bar is negligible,” he said, adding that the tanks are designed to cope with pressures far in excess of that.

“It is also an employment site and they are allowed to put them in place. We can’t look at the proximity issue. There is nothing we can do about it.”

Nico Grigoropoulos, the council’s development management manager, said the company had a “good inspection and maintenance record.”

The application for the installation of two liquid nitrogen tanks was approved unanimously, by all five councillors on the panel.