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CN Briefing: Didcot Power Station; Alford Technologies

At 6am on Sunday morning, another phase of the long and arduous operation at Didcot Power Station drew to a close.

At that time, the remainder of the boiler house at Didcot A was brought down with explosives.

Ever since units 1 and 2 collapsed unexpectedly on 23 February, there have been question marks over the stability of the structure.

With safety paramount in everyone’s minds, the decision was taken to impose a 50 m exclusion zone around the standing structure, meaning that it became impossible to reach the bodies of the three trapped men: Ken Cresswell, John Shaw and Chris Huxtable.

This inevitably meant the team at Didcot would have to find a way to safely demolish the still-standing units 3 and 4, without putting anyone else at risk.

The multi-agency strategic co-ordination group turned to explosives specialist Alford Technologies, a firm more used to carrying out bomb disposal and working on explosive methods of entry with the military in hostage situations than bringing down power stations.

Alford Technologies’ particular appeal to the team, though, was its extensive experience with remote-operated vehicles.

The firm was drafted in as principal contractor to oversee the explosive demolition phase, using a number of different-sized robots in conjunction to survey the structure and plant explosive charges and connectors.

It even had to invent new kinds of charges and connectors to ensure the building came down in the right way.

Despite these most difficult of circumstances, it’s been an incredible feat of engineering and ingenuity – one which you can read about in detail and view pictures and video of on the Construction News website.

We don’t look to sensationalise what has happened, but rather to highlight this striking example of how the industry is able to innovate in new and unexpected ways during times of crisis.

Alford Technologies’ MD told me that the length of time taken to get to this point was necessary to ensure the method of demolition was correct, and that all the operatives were properly trained to carry out this unprecedented piece of work.

The boiler house’s open end stood gaping over the debris pile where the three men lay trapped and had become a symbol of unimaginable horror – one that was visible for miles around in Didcot and the surrounding countryside.

The building is now completely on the ground, and with the debris pile swiftly declared safe, Brown and Mason has taken over as principal contractor to resume the recovery operation that ended when Coleman & Co reached the 50 m exclusion zone back in mid-May.

This next phase will undoubtedly continue to be difficult for the families, friends and colleagues of the missing men.

We can only hope that, with the boiler house now completely brought down, a swift resolution is reached and lessons can be learned about what has gone wrong at Didcot.

Reshuffle

Theresa May’s new government continues to take shape, with ministers filling rail, housing and Northern Powerhouse posts – but the wait goes on for the construction brief to be handed out.

Meanwhile new transport secretary Chris Grayling has spoken out in support of High Speed 2.

Digital summer

Construction News’ digital summer kicks off today. We’ll be digital-only between 18 July and 26 August, which means there will be no print issues for six weeks – find out everything you need to know here and how it can benefit you.

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