Report by Andrea Gutschi and Kerstin Peckl (ETIA class 2020-2022)
„We are at a very strange place,” our tour guides Kerstin Peckl and Michael Hameter stressed at various occasions during our 1.5-hour visit through the abandoned nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf, Lower Austria. Indeed, the plant’s history involving a fully completed construction phase, former chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s decision to connect his political future to a 1978 referendum on whether the plant should go into operation, which ended by 50,47% of the Austrian population voting for “NEIN” followed by a 7.5-year ‘conservation mode’ during which all employees came to work only to box and unbox different gear, is a strange one.
Entering the plant after seeing a 70s-style marketing video trying to showcase the safety and importance of nuclear power by randomly putting together different clips made the experience even more unique.
The actual tour led us from the fuel assembly changing platform at 39 m height in the reactor building to the nuclear core – from above, from the side, and from below, even entering the condensing chamber – followed by the machinery building where the steam, produced by the nuclear fission of Uranium at 800°C, would have rotated the high pressure and the three low pressure turbines with 3000 rounds per minute and the generator would have produced enough electricity for 1,6 million Austrian households. At every stop at different height – due to the already difficult orientation there are no floors in a nuclear power plant – the technical functionalities and challenges of the Boiling Water Reactor were explained in detail.
We learned, for example, that it was not allowed to wear your own clothes when entering the plant and the bright yellow underwear for the plant workers would have been washed in the basement. Or that the design of the condensation pipes in the containment, which have to reduce the pressure after a vault failure was redesigned after a failed experiment to also include steam-dispersing star-shaped outlets. We were surprised to see how much of the original equipment is still standing around, untouched by any radioactive material but of outdated technology and subject to corrosion because of the missing heating.
Today, the site is used as a research and training facility, including 2,080 photovoltaic panels, half of them built with public participation right next to the plant. However, the only life happening in the fully equipped control room is the shooting of films, documentaries, and music videos.
When we left the building, it was pitch-dark outside. There are no neighbors or other companies in vicinity of the area. A wild fox wanders along the outer fence. The river Danube should have served for the immense condensing water supply of 100,000 m3 per hour and would have been warmed by 3 degrees Celsius at the outlet. Now it flows by, uninterested. What a strange place.
Learn more about the MSc program Environmental Technology & International Affairs at www.etia.at, öffnet eine externe URL in einem neuen Fenster.