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Blowdown close-up: my experience of Didcot's demolition

I grew up in Didcot. My family moved there when I was four years old, and it’s where I spent all of my schooldays before going off to university.

While living away from home, the cooling towers of Didcot Power Station were always a welcome sight to me. They might not be the most aesthetically pleasing structure ever built, but you knew you were nearly home.

My parents are Scottish and we would often drive up to the Highlands for the summer – after a long eight-hour drive back south, the cooling towers were the first identifying feature of Didcot you could see.

Visible for miles around, they were always there. And it seemed as if they always would be – an ever-present part of my childhood that would be there for me to go back to, long after my parents moved back to Scotland and my last ties to Didcot began to disappear.

Inside the station

It was a real thrill for me to get a tour of the site a few weeks ago, getting up close to the cooling towers. Getting inside the incredible turbine hall, with its labyrinth of pipework and plant, was even more impressive.

I then went back for the blowdown – the only catch being that it was set to take place at five in the morning.

“Activity was high, with managers and directors buzzing around. Radios crackled constantly with sentry checks and updates”

I arrived on site at around 2am, in plenty of time before it was sealed for the night. Project director Kieran Conaty picked me up at the front gate – a gang of spectators, ignoring warnings to stay away, were being moved off a roundabout nearby.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation around the site.

Activity was high, with managers and directors buzzing around for meetings and sentries stationed every few metres to ensure no-one from the outside got in.

Radios crackled constantly with sentry checks and updates.

Watching, waiting

Kieran took me inside and suited me up with PPE, before eventually getting me over to the coalyard at about 3am. He was being followed around by a fly-on-the-wall documentary crew from the BBC – the media interest in this project was intense.

“Some of the RWE staff were quite emotional, their place of work disappearing in front of their eyes”

A lot of waiting followed. I was in the coalyard with some of the senior guys from Coleman and Company, as well as a lot of employees of RWE nPower, some of whom had worked at the power station for many years.

The darkness began to lift as the anticipation grew further. We got our final safety briefings and settled in the corner of the coalyard, with a perfect view of all three towers.

Immense grace

Then, just as the sun came up, the charges were blown. Surprisingly slowly, and quite gracefully, the towers came down, appearing to fold in on themselves and ripple down to the ground.

The noise was immense; the vibration underfoot even more so.

Emotions were high among the team afterwards. The Coleman team were pleased, and probably quite relieved, that it had all gone off without a hitch.

Some of the RWE staff were quite emotional, their place of work disappearing in front of their eyes.

Empty space

I found myself staring at the empty space where the towers had been.

For more than 40 years they had stood there, proudly producing the power that we all need.

Now, in under 10 seconds, they were gone.

“Sad as I am to see them go, it’s been great to share that slice of home with the rest of the country”

There are three more cooling towers to go, plus the giant chimney stack. But already, Didcot is missing part of its most iconic landmark.

They might not have looked like something to be savoured. But to those of us from the town, they actually meant a lot.

They were home.

But, sad as I am to see them go, it’s been great to share that slice of home with the rest of the country.

Here’s to Didcot Power Station. There’s a long way to go yet.

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