I Can’t Stop Watching These Power Plant Demolition Videos

I Can’t Stop Watching These Power Plant Demolition Videos
Satisfying. So, so satisfying. (Gif: Gizmodo/NBC)

Concrete and steel are two of those immutable things. They make up the foundation of modern life, the things that give shape to seemingly every structure around us.

Which is, in part, why I am absolutely addicted to power plant implosion and demolition videos. Seeing smokestacks and cooling towers meant to stand the test of time being brought down with a few well-placed explosives is a spectacle. There’s tension in these videos, the flash of lights followed by a delayed thud as sound catches up to sight. Then there are a precarious few seconds that feel like an eternity where the seemingly refuses to succumb to its inevitable fate. Were the explosives properly placed to knock out the structural supports? Was the timing right?

Inevitably, those questions are answered with a resounding roar as concrete collapses, its formerly rigid form breaking apart. The towers fall like a shirt or pair of pants casually tossed on the bed. Permanence is undone.

These implosions are, in some ways, a metaphor for the end of fossil fuels as a whole. That a few well-placed metaphorical explosives can bring the industry responsible for damaging the planet fall in on itself. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, for example, has helped lead to the retirement or proposed retirement of 348 coal plants in the U.S. Yet the implosions are also a reminder that people working in the industry will need help.

I invite you to consider these points and what a future without fossil fuels could look like. But also just gaze in awe at these implosions because, look, they’re really cool. They’re certainly more fun to watch than the Lions-Bears game.

Eggborough Power Station

The only thing better than one cooling tower imploding is four at once. We start our tour of toppling across the pond with the Eggborough Power Station in the UK, which despite the cooling towers that most people associate with nuclear power, was actually a coal plant. The massive Yorkshire facility actually featured 12 cooling towers that came down in two rounds of implosions earlier this year. This is the second implosion, which took place in October. In addition to the various angles and debris pinging off the cameras, this footage gets bonus points of the English-accented green light to “fire now, fire now.”

Navajo Generating Station

The Navajo Generating Station’s smokestacks towered 236 metres above the surrounding Navajo Nation desert. The plant was shuttered in 2019 and imploded in 2020 after a nearly 50-year run powering the West. Watching the towering smokestacks keel over one by one by one as dust spreads against the desolate backdrop is both striking and haunting. This video would be much better without the backing track, which disrupts the vibe, though the spectator reactions in some of the clips almost make up for it.

We’ve covered the Navajo Generating Station quite a bit here. On the one hand, it was the largest polluter in the Southwest. On the other, it was a major source of revenue for the Navajo Nation. Like the Monticello Power Plant, it points to the fact that there need to be plans in place to support those whose livelihoods are being wiped away, too.

Marysville Michigan Power Plant Implosion

This video is delightfully cut by high school students. The plant, a former coal plant — which the video notes was dubbed the “Mighty Marysville” — was brought down in 2015. It had been in operation since 1922, but it all came down in a matter of seconds.

The site will eventually be home to condos and dining and shopping options. But it’s undergoing an assessment and cleanup by the county to, in the words of local official Geoff Donaldson, “get it to an industrial standard that wouldn’t spread the contamination beyond the site.”

Crystal River Site

A solid coal plant implosion. I appreciate the two generating stations collapsing in opposite directions followed by a multi-hued cloud of dust. (Who knew there were more than 50 shades of grey?)

The Crystal River plant, located near Tampa, had been burning coal since the 1960s. Current owner Duke Energy brought the coal portion of the plant down this past summer, though. The structure stood 152 meters in height before being toppled by 350 explosives. The countdown adds an air of anticipation and excitement to this video. Less exciting, though, is that Duke repurposed the site to run on natural gas. That’s become a common coal plant killer, which is unfortunate since gas is a major source of methane pollution and new infrastructure locks in decades of use. Clear that rubble out and let’s get some panels set up, Duke.

Monticello Power Plant

Power plant implosions are catnip for local news. You can take it any number of ways: spectacle, local interest story, user-captured video. It’s all there for the taking. Here we have the Monticello Power Plant, located in Mount Pleasant, Texas, coming down. This implosion of yet another coal plant is satisfying as the structure housing the plant falls and a shot of smoke and dust goes up through the smokestack before it topples over, too.

The local flavour of this one, though, shows that there’s a human toll. KETK anchor Trent Bennett (who has since moved on to KAKE for local news watchers) points out that the plant’s owners shut it down in 2018 and let go of 200 people who worked there while promising future development.

“No word on any of that just yet,” Bennett notes.

Trojan Nuclear Plant

Implosions, they’re not just for coal plants. Here’s Oregon’s Trojan Nuclear Plant going down in a pile of rubble in 2006. This news report also features some A+ vintage news footage, including an actual nuclear reactor core being shipped on a barge up the Columbia River, as well as a brief close-up of the explosions. This is peak implosion footage.

River Crest Power Plant

The River Crest Power Plant was comparatively tiny, so this 2011 demolition itself isn’t quite as impressive as the others on this list. What makes this video shine, however, is that it’s super informative! It features an original employee of the plant and the guy who set up the demolition explaining the process. The footage also captures people walking near the fallen tower, showing that even though this coal plant was on the smaller side, the scale of the infrastructure is still huge. Please note that this video is also narrated TV news-style, right down to the inclusion of a reporter, but this is a PR video from Luminant, the Texas company that operated the plant. Sneaky!

HF Lee Power Plant

The choreography of this implosion is absolutely incredible. If synchronised power plant implosions were an Olympic sport, this Goldsboro, North Carolina, implosion would be contending for the gold. This is another Duke Energy coal plant that was demolished in 2011 and replaced with a gas plant. (I’m sensing a theme here.)

Port Everglades Power Plant

Another strong contender for gold in synchronicity, the Port Everglades Power Plant implosion in 2013 really is a marvel. The four coal boilers built in the 1960s go in order from left to right, then the four smokestacks go from right to left. Perfect 10 for choreography.

The local news narration is also aces, complete with the breaking news intro. We also learn from a reporter on the scene, Katie Johnson, that it will be replaced by an “energy efficient plant” with “fuels that will actually be better for the environment and will actually be saving customers money.” FPL, the utility that runs the plant, renamed the site the Port Everglades Next Generation Clean Energy Centre. Wind? Solar? No! You guessed it, it’s now a natural gas plant. Which in my book is a big old deduction.

Brayton Point Power Plant

A two-for-one cooling tower implosion is how Massachusetts’ last coal plant went out. I love the collapse. I love the cheers. I love the guy loudly saying, “they were supposed to do the horn. What’s up with that?” And I really love hearing that guy ask it in slow motion in the second half of the video.

Castleford Chimney

We head back to Yorkshire (West Yorkshire, to be exact) for this implosion. The double drop harkens to the previous video from Massachusetts. But instead of falling in on themselves, these chimneys are knocked over. Seeing the remediation in the background also gives you a nice sense of the scale of what it takes to clean up coal’s legacy.

Birchwood Power Plant

A single chimney falling is both less spectacular than four cooling towers toppling and, to my untrained but obsessed eye, also much cooler in some respects. To get a single, 122-metre tall smokestack to fall in a neat line away from buildings is a dope feat. Controlled Demolition, Inc., I salute you for the graphics leading into this package, the many angles, and the aptness of your name.

Texas Wind Turbine

Turns out you can also demolish a wind turbine. This demolition (courtesy of Controlled Demolition, Inc. again) happened because this Texas turbine caught fire. While I would rather not see this happen on the regular, but I’m not above gawking at it if it’s going to happen.