Ref: Didcot A Power Station Tragedy.
I hope you don’t mind me calling you Sarah but – having been your support act on countless TV, radio and newspaper interviews pretty much since the true extent of the Didcot A power station tragedy became clear – I feel as if I know you.
Let me start by commending you on your support of the families of the two Rotherham men – Ken Cresswell and John Shaw – that remain missing to this day and which look set to remain so for some time to come. At a time when it seems politicians are solely focused upon the In/Out hokey-cokey of the forthcoming “Brexit” vote, the support and compassion that you have shown to those in your constituency is to your credit.
However (and you knew there was a however coming, didn’t you) I would question your most recent outpourings on the ongoing situation at Didcot.
Labour MP for Rotherham @SarahChampionMP tells @BBCOxford recovery operation at Didcot Power Station is a “national scandal”.
Everyone involved – directly or indirectly – with the Didcot disaster believes that a three month (and counting) recovery process is too slow. But I do question your description of it as a “national scandal”. The nation, and its leaders, have no more influence over the speed of the recovery process than they do over flood waters and snow for which they are also regularly, vehemently and wrongly castigated. I also wonder – and I say this as a left-leaning media lovey – if you would have been so quick to call it a “national” scandal if Mr Corbyn were currently ensconced at 10 Downing Street.
If you would like a true national scandal upon which to focus, then might I suggest the fact that it is likely to take the Health and Safety Executive until 2020 to present its findings on the cause of the Didcot disaster and to – predictably – appoint blame. That is almost four years in which the families of the four men lost on 23 February will not have real closure; four years in which similar power stations here and overseas are being demolished, quite possibly without a key fact that might prevent a repeat of the Didcot collapse.
Should the recovery process have been carried out more quickly? Absolutely. Has the interaction between the various contract stakeholders and the families of the missing men been entirely smooth? Quite possibly not. But I feel certain that RWE would like nothing more than for this whole tragedy to be resolved. I know that the team at Coleman and Company worked tirelessly to rescue or recover their fallen comrades. Even the HSE, which generally moves more slowly than Continental Drift, has deployed sufficient resources to safeguard the teams working on the recovery process.
Based upon your in-depth knowledge of structural engineering, demolition and rescue and recovery, how would you propose that the situation should have been handled? Send in heavy equipment, desecrating the bodies of the missing men and destroying any evidence that might point to a cause of the event and, thereby, preventing a repeat? Or sending in teams of men in the shadow of an unstable building and pray that the remainder of this already deadly boiler house does not claim yet more lives?
“…There is no guarantee that the building won’t fall on the existing rubble, burying the men still further. It’s quite possible that the remaining standing structure could also collapse out of the blue – making laying the necessary explosives inside it probably the most dangerous demolition job ever undertaken. Finally, the worst possible scenario is that the building does not completely collapse – which would prevent any future search…” Sarah Champion MP
If the Health and Safety Executive has insisted upon a 50 metre exclusion zone, they have done so for good reason. If Brown and Mason – a world leader in power station demolition – believes that the safest way forward is to implode the remainder of the boiler house, then they are saying so for an equally good reason.
The collapse of the Didcot A power station is an unprecedented tragedy. It is a tragedy for the families of the men lost and injured; and it is a tragedy for the global demolition industry. There will, unquestionably, be lessons to be learned. I sincerely hope that one of those lessons is that future tragedies are met with compassion and humanity, not political posturing.