End of an era as Cockenzie towers go up in smoke

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It dominated the skyline of East Lothian for almost half a century and employed more than 10,000 people.

But it took only seconds to reduce the iconic twin towers of Cockenzie Power Station to a pile of rubble as they kissed one another goodbye.

Thousands gathered from Prestonpans to the Promenade at Portobello to witness Saturday’s dramatic spectacle, which saw the 490ft concrete chimneys lean into one another before collapsing in a cloud of dust.

Hundreds of vessels of every shape and size formed a vast flotilla in the Forth while others flocked to vantage points including Arthur’s Seat.

Among those watching from the safety of the exclusion zone were Bob and Norma Wales, who met when they worked together in the plant during the 1980s.

Mr Wales, who worked his way up from an operations engineer to become station manager, watched the explosion with mixed emotions.

The moment the chimneys were demolished. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The moment the chimneys were demolished. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He said: “It was quite sad. It was a beautiful building but it was built to be a power station and I didn’t see what it could be used for going forward.

“I would rather remember it as a vibrant place in its heyday rather than watch it getting more and more derelict. All the grass was long and the trees unkempt.”

He added: “It was poignant but our memories will live on and the people we met we still see and we still think of the people who are no longer with us.

“There must have been thousands of people lining the coast and I have never seen so many boats in all my days.”

Locals watch as the towers are demolished. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Locals watch as the towers are demolished. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The first controlled explosion at noon brought the twin chimneys – weighing in at around 3000 tonnes each – crashing down.

That was followed by a second blast which levelled the turbine hall, leaving the boiler house as the last remaining major structure from the power station.

Over 160kg of nitro glycerine-based explosives were used in the demolition of the chimney stacks, with approximately 1500 charge holes drilled in each chimney. The explosives were also designed to blow out the base of the chimneys so they fell towards each other.

The button which initiated the demolition was pushed at noon by East Lothian resident Donald McCulloch, 70, the winner of a charity raffle organised by Longniddry and District Rotary Club.

Picture: Ian Georgeson

Picture: Ian Georgeson

He said: “It was exciting to push the button and I was getting quite nervous when they were counting down.

“In the years to come it is the sort of question that will be asked in a pub quiz: ‘Who blew up the chimneys at Cockenzie?’ It was a privilege to be part of history and the demolition squad did a beautiful job and I would like to thank Scottish Power.”

Originally operational in the summer of 1967, Cockenzie was officially opened on May 24, 1968, by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Rt Hon William Ross.

It generated more than 150 Terawatt Hours (TWh) of electricity in its lifetime, enough to power the average annual electricity needs of more than one million homes for each of its 45 years of operation. In an average year, the station would receive approximately 800 train-loads of coal, meaning that up to 36,000 freight trains stopped at Cockenzie’s coal handling plant to make deliveries.

Designed by Sir Robert Matthew – who also designed Edinburgh Airport and the Royal Commonwealth Pool – and famous for its distinctive chimney stacks, the station was built with a generating capacity of 1200MW.

Thanks to investment and high levels of maintenance, the station comfortably outlived original estimates of a 25 to 30-year life cycle.

Hugh Finlay, ScottishPower generation director, said: “The demolition team has been working towards this day for two years, and it was fantastic to see all of our detailed preparations and calculations culminate in such a dramatic event.

“Comprehensive planning and consultation ensured the event could be managed safely. I would like to thank our partners in this project – East Lothian Council and Police Scotland, and our contractors Brown and Mason”.