Nuclear power plant in Neckarwestheim: “It was always good for us”


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Status: 04/15/2023 05:51 a.m

The phasing out of nuclear energy arouses mixed feelings in Neckarwestheim. For more than 50 years, the kiln brought the community a veritable windfall. And now?

By Bernice Tshimanga and Alice Robra, SWR

Herbert Würth can see it from a hill in the middle of the field: The hybrid cooling tower of the Neckarwestheim II nuclear power plant. White steam rises – but on Saturday operations will be stopped here forever. Würth fought for this for more than 37 years, organized meetings, demonstrated and once even blocked tracks.

Now the opponent of nuclear power has achieved its goal. “I have the feeling that we have achieved a great success,” says the 67-year-old. For him, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 was a turning point – with initial spark. Würth was particularly concerned about the future of his two children, who were still small at the time, “and that’s why the decision was clear for me: I’ll take care of anti-nuclear work”.

In Neckarwestheim itself, on the other hand, the joy about the shutdown of reactor block II is limited. 4200 people live in the small community – next to, from and with the nuclear power plant (nuclear power plant). Stefanie Störtenbecker runs a health center in town and is a physiotherapist. Life at the nuclear power plant is normal for her, her father worked there as a shift supervisor. She never had any worries, she says, “we feel safe here and also like living in Neckarwestheim”.

Nostalgia is spreading in Neckarwestheim

“The end of Neckarwestheim II is a historic turning point for the community after almost 50 years as a nuclear energy site,” says Mayor Jochen Winkler (independent). A certain melancholy can now be felt among many citizens, “the plant was always provided with an economic strength. We were always fine.”

For more than 50 years, the kiln has brought the community of Neckarwestheim a real windfall: Every year, up to eight million euros in trade tax from Energie Baden-Württemberg (EnBW) flowed into the community coffers. The reserves were also plentiful. An expensive cultural center, a golf course or childcare facilities could be built, the infrastructure was expanded and local clubs also benefited.

“Now we have to take a close look, prioritize, really put things off, sometimes delay renovation further,” explains Winkler. Because even if you were prepared for it, the loss of income from the nuclear power plant would be a challenge for the community. Funding programs or cultural offerings have already had to be canceled, and fees and taxes have been increased in some places. Mayor Jochen Winkler is certain of one thing, however: “The lights will not go out in Neckarwestheim after the end of nuclear energy.”

What happens to the nuclear waste?

The dismantling of Block II is scheduled to begin this summer and, according to EnBW, will take up to 15 years. But what happens during this time and afterwards with the resulting nuclear waste? Questions like these also concern the people in the community of Neckarwestheim. Because Neckarwestheim still has approval as an interim storage facility until 2046, according to Winkler. It’s unclear what happens to the garbage afterwards.

And that is precisely the reason why anti-nuclear power plant activist Würth is far from finished with the fight against nuclear power. Because just because you turn off the reactor, it is not over with the radioactivity in Neckarwestheim. “We will still have the fuel rods here in the reactor core for four to five years before they can then be relocated to the castors at all. And then they go into the two tunnel tubes in which 125 castors will probably stand for another 100 years.”

After all: There will be no more nuclear waste, Würth is relieved about that – and will also celebrate this at a shutdown party on Saturday in Neckarwestheim. And then he wants to work to ensure that the energy transition is pushed ahead quickly.

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