How do you find cracks in a 34-storey-tall cooling tower?

Making sure the 115m-tall cooling towers at Drax power station are safe demands the latest technology as well as a head for heights.

The 12 colossal cooling towers at Drax power station are a famous part of the landscape around Selby. Built between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, along with our chimney, they’re among the tallest structures in the country (with enough space to fit the Statue of Liberty). They’re a key part of the UK’s biggest sustainable electricity generator, delivering reliable, renewable and affordable power to homes and businesses across the country.

After decades of exposure to the elements — as well as the water vapour cooled from the steam that drives the turbines at Drax — some of the concrete that makes up tower 3B was looking its age. In fact it was beginning to crack in places. But how could our engineers find out which precise parts of the tower were in need of repair?

Bring on the drones

Frist we used drones to take detailed photographs of the towers. Then we took the data they provided to make a 3D model of the structure to visualise the tower’s defects. Our engineers examined the model in minute detail. Then it was time to send in the builders.

Not just any builders, of course. We used specialist steeplejacks who travelled down the sides of the tower in a highly manoeuvrable cradle. That meant they could repair the concrete safely. And best of all, we timed the repair to coincide with one of our regular outages when not all the generating units are working, so there was no interruption to electricity supplies.

Find out more:

The job you don’t want if you’re afraid of heights

Love cooling towers? Here’s everything you want to know

The boy who looked out of his classroom window, watching the cooling towers’ construction. What became of him?

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