Zwentendorf nuclear power plant– a piece of Austrian contemporary history
When EVN took over the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in 2005 the Lower Austrian energy and environmental company acquired a piece of Austrian contemporary history. The 24 hectare area is an approved nuclear power plant in a top location but also a place in which in the last 30 years everything which was started seemed to go wrong and which still moves many people emotionally today. There is no better place in the world more suitable as a symbol for a new environmentally friendly and renewable energy future even way beyond Lower Austrian borders.
How it all began…
The ground-breaking ceremony for the “Zwentendorf nuclear power plant” building project, which was agreed on at the annual general meeting of the Tullnerfeld shared-ownership nuclear power plant a year before, took place on 4th April 1972. The area in Zwentendorf in Tullnerfeld seemed to be cursed right from the start: two weeks after building started work was interrupted by a strong earthquake. The whole foundation had to be torn down again and rebuilt. It took four years until the boiling water reactor with a capacity of about 750 megawatts was finally finished. This power plant could have generated electrical power for about 1.8 million households with continuous operation all year round. The 1976 energy plan included the construction of three nuclear power plants in total with an overall capacity of 3300 megawatts in Austria. However as we know only too well today not everything always goes “according to plan”: as quickly as the first Austrian nuclear power plant moved towards completion, its first opponents were gathering. In 1975 the anti-Zwentendorf activists founded the “initiative of Austrian nuclear power plant opponents”. At its peak the movement which lived exclusively off the personal commitment of activists, involved 500,000 people. We saw the “march of the 5,000” to Zwentendorf. In 1977 a hunger strike by nine mothers from the Vorarlberg region in front of the Federal Chancellery also caused a great sensation. Representing all federal states they wanted to prevent a trial operation in Zwentendorf.
In 1978 The Zwentendorf nuclear power plant did not split the atom but political parties and opinions. People demonstrated beyond party lines and ideological backgrounds – it was a dispute of emotions. On the one side the nuclear opponents on the other side all the country's great powers: the SPÖ government under Bruno Kreisky, the unions, industry and chamber of commerce. In anticipation of a favourable outcome the former Chancellor decided to let the people vote on putting the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant into operation, but it backfired. Interior Minister Erwin Lanc announced the surprising result on the historic date of 5th November 1978 at 7.30pm: “Yes: 1,576,839 votes or 49.53 percent, No: 1,606,308 votes or 50.47 percent. The statute submitted in parliament for national referendum is therefore dropped.”
As a consequence of the Zwentendorf referendum result the National Council decided to ban nuclear power plants in Austria with the “Atomsperrgesetz” for a nonnuclear Austria in December 1978. In March 1985, before the Chernobyl catastrophe which discredited nuclear power in Austria once and for all, the GKT shareholders agreed on the “secret liquidation” of the company. The collecting society began with the sale of fuel rods and other parts of the plant. The nuclear power plant’s staff who were already trained and qualified went to electricity companies or found work in the German nuclear industry. Zwentendorf cost a total of 14 billion Schillings including conservation costs (converted 1.02 billion Euros).
30 years followed such a debacle during which time almost everything which was started there failed. A weird place which attracted bizarre projects and people over the years. An enchanted fairytale castle behind a rusting double fence. Endless failures: museum, history centre, gas power plant. Even a Hollywood film production failed at the last moment as the production company went bankrupt. Not even the naming of the access road worked out, until 2009 it still had no name. It is only since June 2009 that you can take the “Sonnenweg” to the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant. After the successful naming of the road the “Save the World Awards” were also able to successfully take place at the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant. These are the first global awards in the world for people and organisations that are committed to world preservation.
Today: the safest nuclear power plant in the world
Even if the nuclear power plant never fulfilled the task which it was originally created for the use of the “ghost power plant” has been varied throughout its life: until 2001 the Lower Austrian State Police College was housed in the administration of the power plant. During this period Zwentendorf was literally the “safest power plant” in the world. The Zwentendorf schools use the administration building as alternative quarters during renovation work. EVN makes the grounds available to Austrian response organisations for example the Austrian armed forces, fire brigade associations and the police’s special dog units. Since September 2009 new life has moved into the power plant. Over 180 boys and girls from the Zwentendorf primary school are being taught here while their school building is being renovated. Zwentendorf still serves today as a spare parts storage for five nuclear power plants of the same design still in operation in Germany.
A place for teaching and learning
After 2005 EVN turned the empty nuclear reactor into a training reactor: whereas the prospective Zwentendorf power plant engineers in the 70s were trained in Essen, training today is carried out directly in Zwentendorf by experts from Essen. 150 days a year German power plant engineers practise in the old power plant in Tullnerfeld, whenever alteration or service work is to be carried out on their nuclear power plants. There they can practise in a realistic environment and train in areas which in a nuclear reactor which is in operation are normally not accessible as a result of risk of radiation.
Zwentendorf nature sanctuary
Over the years nature has reclaimed massive industrial use areas for itself. EVN took measures to restore the old plant into an animal friendly environment. You can therefore find grilles on some steel tanks so that they do not become death traps for birds. Beavers have made themselves at home in the inlets to the Danube and birds are also nesting in the exhaust stack. The Association of Austrian Hedgehog Friends may use the grounds to release hedgehogs into the wild which have been injured by road traffic and nursed back to health by activists and at the same time are vigorously supported by Johann Fleischer. In the meantime the open space around the nuclear power plant has become a unique nature sanctuary again.
Solar instead of nuclear radiation
Zwentendorf is an approved power plant location and as such of great importance. EVN wants to use it in a first step towards renewable energy. In June 2009 Governor Dr. Erwin Pröll and EVN General Director Dr. Burkhard Hofer already put a large photovoltaic facility into operation on the historical power plant location. A total of 1000 photovoltaic panels now generate clean energy for households and businesses in the region on the façade, roof and surrounding open areas of the old nuclear power plant. Different PV modules are used at the historical power plant location, their special modes of operation are to be tested and improved in a long-term test.
EVN General Director Dr. Burkhard Hofer: “We see this photovoltaic plant at the historical location of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant as a symbol of renewable and environmentally friendly energy future.”