In 1917, Billingham was selected to be the site of a new chemical works supplying ammonia for wartime explosives. By the time it was completed in 1920, the First World War had ended and the works were taken over by Brunner Mond and converted to manufacture ammonia-based fertilisers.
In 1926, Brunner Mond merged with another chemical manufacturer to become Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd – better known as ICI. This boosted the region’s economy and the population of Billingham soared from 8,000 in 1921 to 18,000 in 1932.
During the Second World War, Billingham manufactured high-performance aviation fuel and plastics, as well as housing a top-secret research team working on atomic bombs. Around 100 bombs fell on the site during the war but the plant was only completely out of action for three days.
Bagnall Demolition worked in conjunction with BNFL to decommission the research work area and reactor hall.
In preparation for demolition, Bagnall carried out full decontamination and asbestos removal. This was followed by a complete strip-out of plant and equipment. Finally a complex demolition project took place, with the removal of slabs and the reactor core, which reached a depth of 10 metres.
Extreme care had to be taken when demolishing the reactor hall, due to the close proximity to a four-storey laboratory, which was vibration sensitive. Specialist personnel were required to use a propping system to support the existing sheet pile cofferdam whilst breaking out the concrete, ensuring the integrity of the foundation of the adjacent building while excavation took place.
‘Confined space’ trained operatives were required to work inside the cofferdam to install the propping system.
Bagnall worked in conjunction with BNFL and radiation specialists IRAS, monitoring and sampling material for radiation, prior to the disposal.