Undeterred by Fukushima: Nuclear Lobby Pushes Ahead With New Reactors
One year after the reactor accident in Fukushima, resistance to nuclear energy is growing around the world. But the atomic industry continues to push for the construction of new reactors, primarily in emerging economies. The German government even wants to support that expansion — despite the fact it has abandoned nuclear power back home. By SPIEGEL Staff.
The road to the construction site is flanked by ruins. At one point, there’s a church that looks like its steeple has been shaved right off. An icy wind whistles through empty farmlands.
The buildings, which are slowly decaying at the foot of a small hill, are relics of the former German province of East Prussia. Now they are located in the eastern part of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, located between Poland and Lithuania.
At the top of the knoll, three cranes are pivoting. A massive construction pit comes into view, 20 meters (66 feet) deep and 500 meters long. Visitors can walk down a ramp to reach its bottom of sand-brown dirt.
Yevgeniy Vlasenko, the director of the nuclear power plant that will be built on the site, slips on his hardhat. With Vyacheslav Machonin, his construction supervisor, trailing close behind, Vlasenko heads for a mass of freshly poured concrete blocks. All around, workers are bending the iron rods that will be used in the building’s ring-shaped foundation.
“The reactor with its fuel rods will rest on top of this,” Vlasenko explains. His construction supervisor proudly reports to him that his workers are mixing 2,000 cubic meters (70,000 cubic feet) of concrete per hour for the structure. Should there be a core meltdown, the extremely hot uranium will drip down and be trapped in this basin. But, of course, Vlasenko insists that things “will never get to that point.”
Vlasenko doesn’t want to spoil the good mood on the construction site. Everything is reportedly going according to plan: In four or five years, at most, the first block of the new Kaliningrad Nuclear Power Plant will begin generating 1,200 megawatts of electricity. “Then we’ll sell the energy to Europe,” Vlasenko says. “Including Germany.”
Build Reactors ‘Until Your Noses Bleed’
The gaunt director and his more rotund construction supervisor can’t help but laugh a bit about the irony of selling nuclear power to Germany, now that it has decided to phase out its own nuclear power plants by 2022. “You used to build fantastic nuclear power plants, elegant and solid,” says Machonin, who is now working on his ninth such construction project.
Before this project, Machnonin was in the southwestern Iranian city of Bushehr. “There, we took over and finished the Siemens building project,” he says. “And we adopted some things from you there.” Both of them shake their heads. “How could the Germans just throw everything away,” asks Vlasenko. “Nuclear energy isn’t on its way out; it’s at the beginning of a renaissance.”
Vlasenko is employed by Rosatom, the state-owned Russian nuclear company that is building a third of the nuclear power plants currently under construction across the world. The German and Russian opinions about the future of nuclear energy couldn’t be more different. While Germany has decided to abandon atomic energy, Russia is unflagging in its commitment to the power of nuclear fission.
Indeed, during a celebration marking the opening of a new reactor, Russian leader Vladimir Putin called on those in his country’s atomic industry to build nuclear power plants “until your noses bleed.” Likewise, he has plenty of derisive things to say about Germany’s nuclear anxieties. “I don’t know where they intend to get their heat from,” he says. “They don’t want nuclear energy; they don’t want natural gas. Do they want to go back to heating with wood?”