Nuclear Energy

Pulling the Plug

Siempelkamp
Taking apart Zion reactor.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s shift to renewable energy is set to accelerate the country’s phase-out of nuclear plants.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Nuclear energy is facing growing competition from cleaner power around the world.
    • In Germany alone, there are currently nine nuclear reactors that are scheduled to go offline by the end of 2022.
    • Siempelkamp is helping dismantle the Zion plant about 30 miles north of Chicago.
  • Audio

    Audio

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It’s one of the biggest challenges the experts from Germany have ever faced: helping dismantle the nuclear power plant Zion about 30 miles north of Chicago.

Siempelkamp, a mid-sized company from the German city of Krefeld, is tackling the most demanding and sensitive task at the plant, which went offline in 1998 after more than 20 years of operation. Siempelkamp developed the method to dismantle both reactor blocks along with all the internal components, and the German experts are supervising the deconstruction.

After years of analysis, planning and the building of appropriate machines, now there’s a frenzy of sawing and other activity proceeding at the site on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Siempelkamp, a company specializing in casting and compression molding, has plenty of experience in the nuclear sector. For decades, the family firm was one of the go-to subcontractors in the construction of nuclear power plants. But that business is on its way out, said Hans Fechner, spokesman for the company’s management. “Nuclear power plants are no longer competitive, anywhere,” he said. The growth sector will be in demolishing the plants: “I expect a veritable boom in the coming years.”

The company, with annual revenues of about €600 million ($661.6 million), has been giving external expression to this transformation as well. The former subsidiary for nuclear technology has become Siempelkamp Engineering and Service Co.

“We were at a dead end with the old nuclear technology,” Mr. Fechner said. “The energy transition is forcing not only large providers like RWE, but also us to reorganize ourselves completely.”

In two years, the renamed subsidiary will have around 500 employees, about 100 less than now. In the future, the engineers are supposed to become increasingly involved in the exit from nuclear energy. In the dismantling of shut-down nuclear power plants, these specialists focus particularly on removing the components of the primary circulation ― the parts that were exposed to the most radiation.

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