What Went Wrong with the Didcot Power Plant Explosion?

Just about everyone knows the basics of what happened at Didcot Power Station A in February, at least in general. At 4pm on the 23rd, nearly half of the plant collapsed, while demolition workers were still inside it.

Power Station A had not been in use for some 3 years, since being decommissioned in 2013. It ran for 43 years before it was shut down for the last time. The aging plant was too expensive to run and maintain, and rising pressure to reduce carbon emissions led to its being shut down whilst Didcot B, a newer and more efficient gas-fired power plant, continues to operate to this day.

The Attempted Demolition

Little is yet known about exactly what happened in the moments just before the partial collapse which killed four in February. As all the companies involved are loath to have their names associated with the disaster and have almost certainly been advised by their legal advisors to say nothing that could implicate them (either in court or in the papers, which can be even more damaging these days), we won’t be likely to learn more any time soon. We may have to wait until all the lawsuits have run their course before the real story can be told.

What we do know is that Coleman and Company were contracted to demolish the power station. It appears that they had not actually started the demolition itself at the time of the collapse. They may have been inspecting the plant, or making preparations to begin, but that is purely speculation.

Any plans for how the demolition would have occurred, and even who will ultimately be responsible for it, are now very likely moot. Many questions will have to be answered before work can begin again, and the controlled demolition of a half-collapsed structure is a much more challenging job than one that is still essentially whole.

The Human Cost of the Didcot Collapse

Initial reports were that four people had been taken to hospital with injuries and one worker was killed. It later developed that five people had been taken to John Radcliffe Hospital to recover. Approximately 50 people were treated on-site for dust inhalation in the wake of the collapse.

Currently one worker is known to have died in the collapse, but several are not yet accounted for, and are thought to have died that afternoon. As of 7 March, all three of the demolition workers remain missing, as they have not been found nor have their remains been recovered from the collapsed section of the plant.

Is there a link to the Npower layoffs just announced?

Whilst ownership is a complicated concept in the modern world of corporations and holding companies, RWE Npower is listed as the owner of the closed power station, and have been one of the chief sources of official announcements regarding the tragedy as it develops.

Certainly a disaster like this, involving the loss of several lives, bodes ill for the company. Nonetheless, it seems like the layoffs had been planned for some time, and were more a response to the company’s lack of profitability recently than as a result of the collapse. In 2014 Npower as a whole turned a profit of £175 million. By comparison, 2015 saw the company experiencing a £106 million loss.

Still, this couldn’t have helped their position.

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