‘WELCOME to Didcot’ said the sign as I drove towards the power station to take a close look at the cooling towers before they are blasted to smithereens.
But the ‘Twinned with Meylan’ symbol below appeared to be falling off, perhaps a sign of things to come, as three of the six Didcot A cooling towers will be demolished between 3am and 5am tomorrow.
The three 325ft cooling towers closest to Didcot loom large over the entrance to Didcot A.
Once inside, there are few signs that RWE nPower is still in charge there as staff from Midlands-based demolition firm Coleman & Company are everywhere, counting down to the early hours.
There’s a team of about 150 Coleman staff on site and they have been in town for about nine months preparing for the ‘blowdown’.
The final preparations are now well under way and project manager Chris Doyle, 39, took me for a close look at one of the doomed towers.
We were about 20ft away as I asked Mr Doyle: “What are those bin bags on the legs at the base of the tower?”
It was a hot day but I broke out in a cold sweat when he replied: “The explosives are contained in the geotech wrapping on the legs of the tower, and there are also explosives around the ring of the base.
“You can feel the tension — all the guys are looking forward to it.”
Although I was nervous about being so close to 180kg of explosives, Mr Doyle and explosives engineer John Turner exuded such confidence that I was completely reassured.
Mr Turner, who has worked in demolition for 43 years, said: “We have done 120 of these cooling towers throughout the country and overseas.”
Mr Doyle said the towers would implode after being detonated from a nearby firing point and there would be a six-second gap between the detonation of each tower.
Simon Cowlard and Richard Ghagan
Mr Turner added that the detonation involved a high-pressure gas wave travelling through a tube to initiate the detonators.
“You can feel the tension and excitement here,” said Mr Doyle’s assistant Charlie Workman, 20, who is living in Abingdon. “This is my first one — afterwards we will all go home to get some sleep.”
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service staff also visited Didcot A yesterday to discuss the road closures that have been put in place as part of a 300m exclusion zone for the demolition.
Members of the public have been driving up to the entrance to say a last goodbye to the towers.
Simon Cowlard, 39, from Wallingford, an account manager for a courier company at Milton Park, said: “I will be very sorry to see them go — it’s a bit like when Wembley’s twin towers came down.
“When I was a kid and I went on holiday I knew I was home when I saw the cooling towers.”
His colleague Richard Ghagan, 29, from Summertown, Oxford, said: “It’s a sad day so I wanted to have one last look. When I was at primary school we came on a trip here and we might even have been inside the towers — we are saying goodbye to the cloud-making machines.”
Graham Belcher, 39, from Lombard Medical, which is based near the power station, said: “I am quite sad that the towers will be pulled down as will many.”
The remaining three towers are set to come down next year.
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