FOR 42 years the six iconic cooling towers at Didcot Power Station have loomed large over south Oxfordshire.
But now the countdown to their demolition has started as a closure date was yesterday confirmed.
The Oxford Mail revealed in May that coal-fired Didcot A was likely to close at some point next year.
Now RWE npower has announced it will shut for good on March 31, after 42 years of service.
The power station was originally due to close in 2015 but in 2008 it opted out of a European Union directive and therefore had to close following 20,000 hours of generation from that date.
Power station bosses say Didcot A will reach the end of its allocated hours by March 2013.
RWE npower spokesman Kelly Brown said decommissioning will take six months and that will be followed by demolition.
The cooling towers are likely to come down in the two years after decommissioning.
She added: “There is no timetable yet for demolition and a detailed plan will be drawn up nearer the time it is due to start.
“Once the demolition process starts it could be completed within months.
“All six cooling towers will be demolished after coming to the end of their useful life.
“People will be kept fully informed about the timetable for demolition.”
Town council leader Margaret Davies said: “RWE npower has already started planning for the future by trying to ensure that the cooling towers can’t be listed buildings.
“But this will be an empty brownfield site right on Didcot’s doorstep, and it needs to be redeveloped for future employment.
“It’s unlikely that the site will be used for housing because it could be contaminated.
“Some people have a great affection for the cooling towers, but we need to make sure the site is properly redeveloped when Didcot A has gone.”
Didcot A power station manager Phil Noake, 59, from Abingdon, has worked at the site for 20 years.
He said: “This is a time to reflect on the fantastic team we have at Didcot A power station, and say thank you to all those who have helped to deliver power to homes and businesses for over 40 years.”
About 210 staff work at Didcot A and power bosses said there could be job opportunities for staff in other parts of the company. Some workers could be involved in the decommissioning programme The closure reflects the national switch from coal-fired power stations to low-carbon power generation.
RWE has invested more than £3 billion over the past three years in the UK and now runs the largest installed capacity of both renewable and flexible gas-fired power stations in the country.
Gas fired Didcot B was built alongside the closing coal-fired station in 1997 and will continue to operate as normal.
September 1970: Didcot A, with its six 325ft cooling towers, first generates electricity.
1984: Miners from South Wales staged a round-the-clock picket at Didcot power station as part of a nationwide strike by coalminers.
November 2006: Twenty-five Greenpeace campaigners break into Didcot A on the same day former Prime Minister Tony Blair visits the county. Protesters paint ‘Blair’s Legacy’ down the 650ft stack and the disruption to power generation costs £690,000.
2008: Staff are told that Didcot A is likely to close by the end of 2015.
October 2009: Twenty Camp for Climate Action protesters break into Didcot A and occupy the tall chimney and a coal conveyor.
September 2010: Staff at Didcot A celebrate 40 years of generating electricity.
May 2012: RWE npower reveals that Didcot A is likely to close in 2013, not 2015.
September 2012: RWE npower confirm that Didcot A will close on March 31, 2013.