The nuclear power plant near the small village of Zwentendorf in Lower Austria is not just the only plant of its kind ever to have been built in Austria, and never used, it is also a highly symbolic place, both for contemporary politics and energy policies as well as for Austrian democracy in general. The perennial debate over the building of the AKW Zwentendorf really is a perfect illustration of people power.
The decision to build the power plant was made in 1971, and construction got underway on 4 April 1972. Between 1973 and 1978 technical equipment, cooling pumps, heating elements and reactor containments with a total weight of more than 1,110 tonnes were delivered and installed. The 1,500 windowless rooms of the plant are enclosed by a 1.2 m thick reinforced concrete exterior wall: a solid casing for hazardous content. Altogether more than 14 bn Austrian Schillings, approximately 1 bn euros, were spent on the construction.
Shortly after completion, the commissioning was halted because of a groundbreaking national referendum held on 5 November 1978. The campaign group ‘Österreichische Atomkraftwerksgegner (IÖAG)’ with up to half a million members had been established three years earlier, in 1975, giving rise to the anti-nuclear movement. Several campaigns and stubborn resistance such as a hunger strike in front of the Austrian parliament finally forced chancellor Bruno Kreisky to hold a referendum. With exactly 1,606,308 votes against the nuclear power plant, i.e. 50.47%, the result of the referendum could not have been closer. The rejection also led to the so-called Atomsperrgesetz in December 1978, a law which forbids any future steps aimed at building nuclear power plants without first consulting the country’s citizens.
Over the next seven years, until 1985, the owners, a group comprised of different energy companies, kept the plant with its 200 employees in a state of preservation, i.e. potentially in working condition. The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 ended their hopes of ever again operating the plant. After this historical outcome, the AKW Zwentendorf was finally shut down. Over the next few years, different suggestions were made for its further use: the world-renowned artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser thought about a museum for misleading technologies, and the businessman Robert Rogner wanted to transform it into an experience world.
Forty years later the former nuclear power plant now operates as an event and festival location – and as a movie backdrop. Public interest remains strong. EVN, its new owner and operator, has more than ten thousand visitors a year for their guided tours. After the plant was bought by the EVN energy company in 2005, EVN not only began to provide guided tours, but it also installed a photovoltaic research centre in collaboration with the Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien). As a complete plant the AKW Zwentendorf is also used as a training centre for nuclear power employees from all over the world. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uses it for annual workshops. And, last but not least, the plant has also served as a spare parts depot for identical nuclear power plants in Germany.
Researcher Joshua Koeb
1978Nuclear power plant
2018 Public Programmes Venue
1978 Gemeinschaftskernkraftwerk Tullnerfeld Ges.m.b.H. (GKT)
2018 EVN AG
Form of government
1978 Parliamentary Republic
2018 Parliamentary democracy
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
Interview with Mario Scalet
Interview with Stefan Zach
Interview with Willi S