Blast furnace at former Corus Redcar steel plant relit

Steelmaking has returned to Teesside - after the blast furnace at the former Corus plant in Redcar was relit.

New owner SSI has spent millions making ready the huge furnace, which was shut down when the plant was mothballed by previous owner Tata Steel in 2010.

Many of the 1,600 workforce who lost their jobs two years ago have been re-employed by Thai-based SSI.

Wills Waterfield, the 11-year-old son of late union chief Geoff Waterfield, performed the ceremonial lighting.

They used a gas lance which was itself ignited by embers from an operational blast furnace, in keeping with steelmaking tradition.

Workers cheered at the sight of flames inside the furnace.

The first steel slabs are likely to be produced over the next three days.

Win Viriyaprapaikit, president of SSI, said: "This is a very proud day for us and for me personally.

"I believe the investment we have made at Teesside will result in a very successful business which will benefit all of the stakeholders involved, including the local community and employees for generations to come."

Wind turbines

Phil Dryden, chief executive of SSI UK, said: "I would like to pay tribute to all those who have made this day possible, including the stakeholders for their investment and the people who have worked so hard on the restart project.

"We now look forward with confidence to resuming the long tradition of steelmaking on Teesside and establishing SSI UK as world class steelmaker.

Image caption Work has been going on for months to ready the blast furnace

"This is a historic event and a complex and demanding restart programme."

Initially all the steel produced in Redcar will be shipped to Thailand, but it is hoped some could be used in the UK to support the wind turbine manufacturing industry.

There has been months of preparation ahead of the official relighting. The furnace has been heating up since February ready for the moment when super-heated air can be ignited creating the blast furnace.

Tony Pointer, who was a union leader at the plant, said: "It's a historic occasion.

"The area has obviously suffered from the fact that it has not had money from people working at the plant.

"But with the re-opening of the works it'll bring money back into the local economy, which is what this area needs badly."

'Great day'

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "It is great news that, after a two-year absence, the Redcar blast furnace will be lit again.

"I look forward to SSI starting steel production once again in the North East.

"SSI and its workforce have worked very hard over the last year and should be congratulated on getting to this point."

Image caption Mr Waterfield died in August 2011 aged 43

Former steelworker of 30 years and leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, George Dunning, paid tribute to union boss Geoff Waterfield, who battled to retain the Redcar plant, but died in August last year.

Mr Dunning added: "I would like to say a big thank you to all those involved in the return of steelmaking to Redcar, including the SSI team and the trade unions.

"A special thank you and tribute should also go to Geoff Waterfield, who truly embodied the passion and determination for steel here in Teesside."

Mr Waterfield, 43, worked at the Corus, Tata and the SSI UK site for about five years before his death last August. He was the chairman of the multi-unions at the Redcar site.

The blast furnace was due to be relit last December, but it was delayed by technical problems and industrial action.

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