Controversial to the end: Record Brokdorf nuclear power plant goes offline

Controversial to the end
Record Brokdorf nuclear power plant goes offline

It is the last of its kind in Schleswig-Holstein and the shutdown is a further step towards phasing out nuclear power. The Brokdorf nuclear power plant produced record amounts of electricity – at the end of the year the reactor will be shut down forever. His opponents see themselves at their destination – but there is also melancholy.

A widely visible sign of protest stood next to it for years. For around 20 years, a single wind turbine turned a few hundred meters away from the Brokdorf nuclear power plant on the Elbe. It belonged to Karsten Hinrichsen. “That was the symbol against the box,” says the nuclear opponent. With his wife he had borrowed 500,000 marks (a good 255,000 euros) from the bank and had the 50 meter high wind turbine installed in 1993.

Today the 78-year-old still lives within sight of the nuclear reactor behind the Elbe dike northwest of Hamburg. For the nuclear power plant, however, the end is foreseeable. At the end of the year, Brokdorf has to go offline for good – after almost 35 years of operation and probably with a record annual production of 11.5 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). The pressurized water reactor with a net output of 1410 megawatts has been supplying electricity since 1986, has produced more than 350 billion kWh in the past few decades and has twice been the “world champion in terms of the annual amount of electricity generated by all around 450 nuclear power plant units”, as the operator PreussenElektra proudly says in a brochure .

Karsten Hinrichsen has often protested against the planned construction of the pile. He was also there when up to 100,000 people demonstrated in the Wilstermarsch at the end of February 1981. A year later he moved to Brokdorf with his wife. However, the meteorologist from Hamburg quickly noticed that there was hardly any resistance to the construction of the reactor in the small town. “I wanted to discuss and convince people that you can’t sit in the dark at night even without a nuclear power plant.” He has not been warm to many in Brokdorf to this day.

A man accompanies the nuclear power plant to the end

Change of location. Uwe Jorden looks at the instruments on the walls of the nuclear power plant control center. The 66-year-old has been the power plant manager in Brokdorf for 16 years. He had already worked in the plant before and voluntarily delayed his retirement. “I wanted to finish this here because the power plant and the employees are very important to me,” he says. Jorden will not retire until the end of March. “The end is not so present,” says Jorden. What is certain, however, is that Jorden will be in the control room on December 31, when the reactor driver finally leaves the reactor. “It will take about four hours.” Then the electricity production of the originally three nuclear power plants in Schleswig-Holstein ends.

The reactors in Brunsbüttel and Geesthacht (Krümmel) have been shut down for years. So now Brokdorf follows. Over time, the whole thing has grown mentally, says Jorden. “On New Year’s Eve, just before midnight, it becomes finally clear that it is over.” Only a few employees will be in the control room when the system is shut down. He’s not afraid of this moment, says Jorden. “But a bad feeling. It will be very depressing.”

Jorden has come to terms with the nuclear phase-out, but he cannot understand this step on his own. “That moved us a lot, of course – to the point of anger,” he says. “For me as a technician, the decision is incomprehensible. It is questionable whether everything is right, what is happening in Germany.” He also means the planned exit from coal. The power plant manager is aware of the special status of his plant. “Brokdorf is a synonym,” says Jorden. “We are under special supervision here.” The nuclear supervision of the northernmost federal state has always been very strict in recent years. “That shapes. Nevertheless, careful work has always been one of our maxims.”

Accumulation of leukemia cases near nuclear power plants

On the 6th of every month, the vigil, of which Karsten Hinrichsen was a member, persistently demanded that the reactor be shut down for decades. The date is intended to commemorate the atomic bombing on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and to indicate a close interlinking of the military and civilian use of atomic energy, says Hinrichsen. The 78-year-old sees Germany’s approaching nuclear phase-out only to a limited extent as a belated victory for the anti-nuclear movement. “We would have won if we had already prevented all nuclear power plants back then.”

The history of nuclear power in Schleswig-Holstein also includes the still unexplained accumulation of leukemia cases in children near the Krümmel nuclear power plant and in the southern Elbmarsch as well as the inglorious end of the reactor and the third Schleswig-Holstein nuclear power plant in Brunsbüttel after a series of breakdowns. On June 28, 2007, there was an emergency shutdown in both systems.

After a short circuit in a switchgear building, Brunsbüttel went offline. Hundreds of traffic lights failed in Hamburg. A good one and a half hours later, a short circuit in a machine transformer on the site of the Krümmel nuclear power plant led to a fire. Black plumes of smoke could be seen for miles, around 70 tons of transformer oil caught fire.

Only Brokdorf has been online for a long time. Nuclear power opponent Hinrichsen tries to make his peace with the nuclear power plant. “The tension that I mostly had in the past is relaxing,” he says. But it is not over on January 1st because of the 15 year long dismantling. From the dike in front of his house, he can continue to look at the imposing shell. “I think the building is beautiful and it would be perfect as a museum for a wrong energy policy decision.”

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