May 24 was no ordinary day for the Savannah River Site. SRS as it is known locally in the US state of South Carolina was the scene of an enormous demolition using over one thousand pounds of explosive. The demolition of the colossal K Cooling Tower was considered so potentially dangerous that members of the public – or the media -were not allowed near the scene.
The demolition was funded by the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and was part of a project to reduce the ecological footprint of the site. SRS is a nuclear materials processing centre which was built during the 1950s to refine nuclear materials which could then be used in nuclear weapons. Perhaps this is the American way of giving the Iranian government a hint. A massive hint.
Or perhaps not. Nevertheless this was the second largest cooling tower to be consigned to oblivion by controlled destruction in the world, ever. The pictures do only little justice to the huge size of K Cooling Tower – it was 450 feet tall and 345 wide. As such it posed what you might call an exceptional challenge to SRS managers. As such many experts were also called in to advise on the obliteration of the tower.
The neighboring South Carolina Highway 125 was closed for half an hour at the time of the demolition. The coordination of the demise of K Cooling Tower was done by the American Demolition and Nuclear Decommissioning Inc. However, they also worked very closely with Controlled Demolition Inc – an organization with a long history of managing large implosive flattening of manmade objects no longer wanted.
The tower was built in 1992 and its function was to support nuclear production at the K Reactor at SRS. Ironically, 1991 – the year before it was built – is now widely regarded as the year the Cold War ended and so there wasn’t much use for the new reactor or tower. All the motorized equipment and control rooms were removed in 2003 and the unloved concrete structure has been standing redundant ever since.
If you want to know the mechanics of the destruction of the tower, then think of how a lumberjack would approach the felling of a tree – but add dynamite. Explosives were placed in almost four thousand places over the first 250 feet of the tower. Strategic placement of the explosives took out a notch of the tower and determined how it fell. The rest of the explosives break up the structure allowing it to tumble earthward.
The explosives are little more than a catalyst. Gravity will do the bulk of the work. You might think that when this huge structure hit the ground that there must have been the feeling of an earthquake. However, Highway 125 for example only felt a force equivalent to a truck passing through – quite remarkable really but a testament to the skills of the teams that brought about its downfall.