And then there were eight… This weekend, the Grafenrheinfeld nuclear plant in northern Bavaria will shut down permanently. It is the first nuclear plant to close since 2011.
After 33 years in operation, the nuclear reactor at Grafenrheinfeld – the oldest one in operation in Germany – will ramp down one final time this Saturday, June 27. With more than half of its fleet now being dismantled, Germany is developing expertise in a lucrative future market: safely tearing down and decommissioning nuclear plants. Europe faces a massive nuclear phase-out with or without an official declaration; the Europeans may only have a few nuclear plants in operation by the 2030s.
Up to now, Germany has only completely dismantled three small nuclear reactors. In Bavaria, the Niederaichbach plant was switched off in 1974 after 18 months (not years) of power production. In 1995, it became the first nuclear reactor in Europe to be completely disposed of. With a rated capacity of 106 MW, it was quite small, however. And the cost of dismantlement (280 million deutsche marks) exceeded construction costs (230 million marks). As the example of another reactor in Stade shows (closed in 2003 after 31 years of operation), the cost ratio between construction and dismantlement has not improved. Stade cost 150 million euros to build. Dismantlement should have already been finished at a cost of 500 million, but the latest estimate is 1 billion euros (report in German).
Incidentally, Grafenrheinfeld is known to practically everyone in Germany from a famous novel entitled Die Wolke. Written in the wake of the Chernobyl accident, the book describes what a similar meltdown would look like in Germany based on the location of Grafenrheinfeld. The novel became standard reading at German schools. A reported 1.4 million copies have been sold in Germany alone (it was translated into 16 other languages as well – report in German). The closing of Grafenrheinfeld will thus be seen within Germany as a symbolic act. The novel did not have a happy ending. Hopefully, the real power plant will.
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