Hurt Locker Types Swap IEDs for Boom in Offshore Wind Turbines

Army disposal experts are drawing on knowhow in handling hazards from improvised explosive devices to unearthed bombs to detect threats to offshore wind projects from millions of tons of World War II-era ordnance dumped at sea.

Former British Army Major Simon Cooke worked from Northern Ireland to Lebanon, helped special forces with nuclear, chemical and biological counter terrorism, and had “jumped out of planes, blown things up” before he founded 6 Alpha Associates.

Working at first to manage unexploded bombs uncovered by construction companies, Cooke’s business is one of a few that are preparing for fresh demand from offshore wind developers.

“There’s enough work offshore to keep us going in Europe for at least a decade easily, without going anywhere else at all,” the managing director said. “If you look at the global trend, on and offshore for renewable energy, we’re definitely not about to clear this threat globally any time soon.”

The U.K. and Germany are building farms to curb emissions and secure power. The U.K. dumped WWII ordnance in Beaufort’s Dyke, a trench in the Irish Sea, from 1945 to 1973, with the Army identifying about 1.2 million tons of surplus munitions after the war and the airforce another half a million tons.

Once dumped, the weapons can drift and become unstable, Cooke said. Loose sea mines have also been found, he said.

Ramora UK and 1st Line Defence also dispose of unexploded ordnance, a job portrayed in Hollywood film “The Hurt Locker,” including threats offshore, according to their websites.

Chemical Agents

About 1.6 million tons of weapons including naval mines, bombs and shells filled with chemical agents are estimated to be lying in the German North and Baltic Sea, according to a German government-sponsored report released in December 2011.

6 Alpha, also involved in oil and gas, civil engineering and security and risk management, has worked on more than 30 offshore turbine projects in waters off the U.K. and Europe, including the London Array, the world’s largest wind farm. All have faced risks related to unexploded ordnance, Cooke said.

Such threats need to be tackled early, he said.

“If you wait and you’re delayed and you find something and you’ve done nothing about it, you’re exposed to a whole load of risks and governance issues right down to killing people,” he said. Disposal may cost 2 million pounds ($3.3 million) to 10 million pounds depending on the wind farm’s size, Cooke said.

The company sees growth in its market outside of Europe as Japan pushes sea-based turbines after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and the U.S. seeks to introduce the technology.

Dumping munitions and live fire training exercises also took place off the U.S. and in the Gulf of Mexico, said Cooke, who plans to open a unit of 6 Alpha in America this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sally Bakewell in London at sbakewell1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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