LONDON — London's Millennium Exhibition won't have a PVC-coated polyester dome after all.
The British government made a last-minute material switch, ceding to pressure from Greenpeace, which opposed using PVC, and political opposition, which criticized the short lifespan of the dome.
Instead, New Millennium Experience Co. Ltd., the firm setting up the $985 million project, on Aug. 22 announced a new contract to Birdair Inc. of Amherst, N.Y., which will fabricate a $22 million welded-panel roof from polytetrafluoroethylene-coated fiberglass.
Koch Hightex GmbH of Rim-sting, Germany, demanded full compensation for the cancellation of its £6.1 million ($9.82 million) contract to supply the PVC-polyester construction.
The material switch will add 10 years to the dome's lifespan, according to New Millennium.
Koch says it spent nearly four months working on the project and already had invested in material for the Millennium dome. Reports in the British press suggest Koch is seeking a pay-off of as much as £2 million ($3.22 million).
``We understand Greenpeace has questioned the environmental impact of the PVC structure and this may have a bearing on the government's decision to act,'' Koch said in a news release. ``In its hurry to satisfy Greenpeace, the government appears to have chosen any supplier to distance itself from the original decision on a PVC structure.''
Birdair, a subsidiary of Taiyo Kogyo Corp. of Osaka, Japan, in a statement emphasized its track record for PTFE-coated structures, notably the 1973 student facility at La Verne College in La Verne, Calif., which has survived intact for nearly 24 years.
Birdair will cut, shape and weld the dome's 487,000-square-foot roof from one-sixteenth-inch-thick PTFE-coated fiberglass film manufactured by Chemfab Corp. of Merrimack, N.H., according to Garry Becker, Birdair's senior vice president.
He said Birdair is in talks with British fabricator Landrell Fabric Engineers Ltd. of Chepstow, Wales, which may assist in forming the roof. To help fulfill the project's tight delivery schedule — the dome must be finished by the turn of the century — Birdair also may employ its new German subsidiary, Stromeyer and Wag-ner GmbH of Konstanz, he added.
Becker said Birdair intends to meet the March 1998 material delivery deadline and complete the roof assembly by next June. Birdair holds a 90 percent market share worldwide for PTFE-coated glass-fiber roofs, he said.
The dome project has led Britain's newly elected Labour government into a series of embarrassing rows in recent months. Initially, it defended the PVC/polyester roof, devised under its Conservative predecessor, against Greenpeace claims that PVC use is environmentally dangerous and a fire hazard.
A prominent Labour leader called the original plan a ``silly temporary building.''
Peter Mandelson, the government minister responsible for the Millennium project, said the altered roof materials allow the government to meet criticism of extravagance on a temporary building, while satisfying environmental critics on PVC use.
Greenpeace threatened to disrupt the dome's construction if the government persisted with the PVC/polyester roof. It also opposed the use of PTFE-coated material on the grounds that its production uses ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons and hydrogenated CFCs.
Greenpeace spokesman Mark Strutt said PTFE is ``preferable to PVC'' and ``the better of two evils,'' which Greenpeace now has to accept in view of the time constraints of the project.