Nuclear Power Plant Zwentendorf

By Teresa Ewen

In April 1972, the construction of the first nuclear power plant of Austria began. After it was completely finished and ready for use in 1978, a national referendum was held about its entry into service. 50,47 % voted against this. The nuclear power plant of Zwentendorf never produced electricity based on nuclear fission.

For seven years the operating companies hoped the public opinion would change and preserved the facility and kept on employing many trained personnel. However, in the 1980s a “silent liquidation” was decided and some of the devices like the fuel rods were sold. There are similar power plants in operation in Germany, so Zwentendorf is used as spare parts depot for these power plants. The nuclear accident of Chernobyl in 1986 did not go unnoticed in Austria and marked the definitive end of producing electricity using nuclear energy domestically.

Many ideas of using the area and the power plant alternatively were proposed: The artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (Friedrich Stowasser) planned a museum for failed technologies. A movie including Hollywood-actor Dolph Lundgren was shot on the premises of the nuclear power plant and meant to go into production. It did not because a partnering firm involved in the project went bankrupt. The conversion into what was to be known as “Historyland” was also given some thought. Udo Proksch, another Austrian artist, wanted to use the plant for what he called the “Friedhof der Senkrecht-Bestatteten“ – an unconventional cemetary which foresaw the sarcophagi of the deceased to be positioned upright, fully accessible to the relatives of the dead to visit their beloved. None of these ideas was ever realised. Today, the power plant belongs to EVN. In more recent years, the office building of the power plant hosted the regional police and primary schools. The power plant itself is used to train specialists and provide guidance for the public.

The tour through the power plant was really impressive. It is a unique opportunity to see a fully assembled atomic power plant from the inside without the danger of getting contaminated. It seems as if it was abandoned sometime in the 1970s, hermetically sealed and/or conserved in good condition. Our tour began in the control center, which felt more like a movie set. Old telephones and computers as well as walls full of small lights and cryptic inscriptions.

Control room and old regulatory panels


The control room is the heart of the power plant where everything is regulated which is located peripherally with windows overlooking the area surrounding the plant. Following public protests, it was deemed necessary to reinforce the windows using bullet-proof glass.

The reactor building itself was most interesting, since it is where nuclear fission and subsequent chain reaction takes places. We favoured this opportunity as civilians would probably never see these facilities in a commercially used power plant this transparently. The reactor is enormous which becomes clear standing 39 metres above it, looking down an area where fuel rods are normally placed.

Reactor room and reactor pressure vessel cover

IMG_8328 IMG_8330

It was also very special to go below the reactor. We could go inside a huge room which would normally surround the reactor with water, definitively an ‘invisible’ part of an active nuclear power plant. Next to the reactor building was the engine room, where the turbines and the generator were placed. The operators sold some of the turbines and the generator, but one turbine is left.

Remaining turbine at the nuclear power plant Zwentendorf


Our tour concluded in this building, explaining how electricity would have been generated utilizing steam from the enormous heat produced during nuclear fission. The presentation helped to better understand and imagine the steps in nuclear energy production a bit clearer. Paradoxically, the facility is used to produce electricity after all. Instead of nuclear energy, solar energy is used however drawing on several photovoltaic cells on the area of the nuclear power plant.

Modern use as a photovoltaic facility


All in all, the atomic power plant in Zwentendorf was an outstanding opportunity to learn and understand more about nuclear power. And it’s a brilliant movie set which is demonstrated in Moby’s music clip:

Source: vimeo – Moby’s music video “After”

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All rights reserved. Photos © Franz Josef Danner


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