Shelved plans to blow up the concrete cancer-riddled Port Kembla stack have been revived after a "breakthrough" in the long-running challenge of how to safely bring down the landmark.
Explosives were thought the answer when the 200-metre stack was first approved for demolition in August 2010, as part of the application to ready the Port Kembla Copper site for its next use.
But the technique was called into question early last year when asbestos was found in the stack.
Port Kembla Copper investigated less dramatic methods of bringing it down, including use of a large tower crane to incrementally crush it, although the size of the crane was thought to pose safety issues.
Port Kembla Copper general manager Ian Wilson said a recently enlisted consultant had devised a method of removing the asbestos elements from the stack - 22 aluminium asbestos thermal expansion gaskets - so the explosive felling method could proceed.
"It will be felled like a tree," Mr Wilson explained.
Final approval for the demolition rests with WorkCover Authority of NSW, which would determine the exclusion zone for it.
Mr Wilson said work removing the gaskets could begin as early as April; the demolition would likely occur mid-year.
The fate of the stack is a divisive topic in Port Kembla and beyond, with some in favour of retaining the landmark for its heritage value and because it is such a distinctive part of the landscape.
Last year, a group called Stack 360 was formed to investigate ways of converting the structure into something with cultural and tourism value, and Throsby MP Stephen Jones started a petition to save the stack.
Mr Wilson said there would be "a significant level of community consultation so that all questions can be answered".
"There are mixed feelings. There are some people who would like to see the stack retained, there are others who would like to see the stack removed," he said.
Port Kembla Copper has awarded the demolition contract to Precision Demolition.
The contract covers asbestos removal, explosive felling and site clear-up.
The demolition of the stack will coincide with the demolition of the refinery on the main Port Kembla Copper site. Work has begun to strip out equipment from the refinery, which is the last large structure in the copper smelter to be demolished.
Demolition has been occurring on the site since late 2010, claiming the acid plant, the copper smelter, billet plant and numerous smaller structures. The copper smelter operated for much of last century before it closed in 1995.