Saturday, August 21, 2004

There Yesterday, Gone Today

If you have broadband, you may want to try downloading this Windows Media File (7 MB) which is a video impression of today's Lopik demolition job. As you'll see, it is part of a bigger TV documentary I am working on.

I'm interested in feedback. For those who just want the HTML it is.

Walking Over the Debris

There are not many Saturday's when you can watch an explosion. Not many when the explosion involves the symbolic demolition of a mediumwave transmitter tower. I got up at 6 am to make the short trip down the road to Lopik, on the South side of Utrecht. By the time I arrived at the NOZEMA transmitter centre, there was a huddle of journalists waiting outside - and the rain changed from drizzle to a real down-power. I had to share the umbrella with the camera, trying to keep water off the lens as much as possible.

Rain or shine, the northerly most MW tower at Lopik was coming down. Explosive experts had put charges at the bottom of two of the three guywires, with the plan that the third guywire would pull the tower into the empty polder land behind the transmission tower. No-one knew if the tower would land in one piece, or buckle as it went down (the last tower to be demolished at Lopik buckled in 1957).

Infact the tower's demolition was more symbolic than technical. Back in April, NOZEMA came to an agreement with the local authority about the level of electromagnetic radiation coming from this site. Lopik has always been a transmission centre, but housing projects have crept closer and closer - and residents have started to complain that their electronic equipment wouldn't work properly. Not much consumer equipment works well with 220 kWs of MW energy literally in the backyard.

Now, the remaining South mast (192 metres) is being used for Arrow Classic Rock, but at a power of 100 kWs. Today's demolition was physical proof to the local population that they had abided by their agreement, reducing the power and removing the mast nearest the town of Lopik. A second, smaller antenna (80 metres) also still stands - that's been used as a 40 kW standby. The Lopik transmitter centre has an emergency transmitter in a bunker, dating from the Cold War when they thought the place might have to survive a nearby nuclear blast.

Thirty minutes before the explosions, an area 360 metres around the mast was sealed off by police, with a helicopter circling round the area to check. Then came the warning sirens, the last one exactly 1 minute before the charge was let off.

In Mid Air: 0650 UTC

In fact the tower did not buckle, tipping gracefully against the grey sky, and rain bucketing out of the heavens. It was a four second fall of fame. Five minutes later, a group of about 75 people (press, local officials and Nozema employees) clambered over the remains.

TV crews did their interviews with officials. As is common in the Netherlands, there was the inevitable question : how much did all this cost? No-one knew. If they did, they were not saying. Some kids I spoke to were disappointed. They thought the massive 300 metre TV tower behind us was going to come down instead. Now that will be the day!

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