One Dead, Three Missing After Power Plant Collapse

Shortly after 4 p.m. on February 23, part of the boiler house at the Didcot A Power Station in Oxfordshire, UK, unexpectedly collapsed, killing one person. Three others are missing and feared dead.

The plant—located about 55 miles west of London—was closed in March 2013 and was in the process of being demolished by Coleman and Co., a contractor that specializes in power plant demolition.

“We are now working closely with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors to understand the cause of the incident,” said Assistant Chief Constable Scott Chilton from Thames Valley Police. “The priority at this time is that the recovery of the bodies is undertaken safely and that any evidence that will assist in understanding the cause of the incident is recorded.”

In addition to the dead and missing, five others were taken to the hospital; no specifics were given about their injuries or current condition.

“Our thoughts are with the families of all those involved in this tragedy,” Coleman and Co. said in a statement. RWE npower, owner of the facility, issued a similar statement.

Didcot A was originally designed as a coal-fired station, although three of the four 500-MW units were later converted to dual firing, allowing natural gas to be used as an alternative. The plant began commercial operation in 1970.

Coleman and Co. began developing detailed plans for the demolition of Didcot A as early as March 2012. Many steps had been carried out to ensure the work was performed safely, such as asbestos surveying, explosive engineering, structural calculations, and temporary works design, but something went terribly wrong nonetheless.

“The rescue teams are working under very difficult circumstances, with a structure that is unsafe and with unstable piles of materials from the collapsed building,” said Chief Fire Officer Dave Etheridge from Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. “We are currently using sniffer dogs, listening devices, drones and we are looking at the possibility of using remote controlled probes to access dangerous parts of the site. This enables us to cover areas that are too risky for rescue teams to go themselves.”

Based on the nature of the collapse and the location where the missing people were working, the chief said it is highly unlikely that the three missing people are still alive. Construction site radios have received no response from the individuals and listening devices had not picked up any signs of life.

“In addition the military is supporting the search for the missing people. They will be using a mini remote control vehicle to assist with the search for survivors at the site,” Etheridge said. “This provides us with enhanced capability and their equipment and expertise will be invaluable.”

In October 2014, a cooling tower fire forced one of Didcot B’s two units offline. Emergency responders from three fire and rescue services answered the call to put out that blaze. While the fire was serious, there were no injuries reported as a result of that incident.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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