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German Atomic Energy: How to Demolish a Power Plant Without Blowing It Up

The engineers who broke down a decommissioned power plant on the Rhine last week did so without explosion. Instead, they used robots to gently collapse like a house of cards.

Or at least as gentle as you can flatten an 80-meter concrete cooling tower.

The tower was part of the Mülheim-Kärlich power plant, which was in operation for just over a year in the 1980s . The plant was decommissioned in 1988 due to licensing issues and earthquake risk concerns in the area. The daunting task of mining began in 2004.
Germany decided to phase out all nuclear power plants in 201
1 following the Fukushima disaster. It is also planned to close all coal-fired power plants by 2038 in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which are currently the largest in Europe. This means that there will probably be many more such breaks in the coming years.

Decades ago, German power plants were a symbol of their engineering skills. Today, the country is the world leader in dismantling these complex buildings.

Robot Performance

In May of last year, the engineers began to cut back the then 162 meter high cooling tower in Mülheim-Kärlich. They attached a robot to his lip, and last year chewed his way through the building – a bit like a caterpillar devouring a leaf.

In June of this year, the tower was half as high as before .

  The robot eats around the cooling tower.

Engineers had to complete the job. But as project leader Olaf Day explained, they did not have any government approval for an explosion and instead had a different plan.

The tower was supported by 36 V-shaped pillars. Last week, a team of experts used a giant robot "hammer" to weaken some of the columns, and then another high-tech "scissors" to cut them until the tower collapsed, Day said.

"It was the first time in the world that this demolition method was used [on a nuclear plant]," he said, adding that the entire "hammer and scissor" process took just under four hours.

  A robot weakens one of them on the supporting pillars of the cooling tower.

This unique method had another advantage.

Explosives cause "tons of dust flying everywhere," said Professor Miranda Schreurs, Chair of Environmental and Climate Policy at the Technical University of Munich. However, the Mülheim-Kärlich tower is only "collapsed" and has produced only minimal dust.

Although the tower was not classified as radioactive, there remains an interest in "minimizing the potential spread of pollutants," she said. [19659009] The New Atomic Experts

Over three decades, the cooling tower shaped the skyline of this small town in West Germany, the legacy of an era in which the country generated around 30% of its electricity from nuclear power, according to Schreurs.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, nuclear energy was considered a "symbol of German engineering," said Schreurs.

However, when the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 drove radioactive clouds over western Europe in nearby Ukraine, the concern for the safety of nuclear energy "took on a whole new dimension," she said.

After the reunification of Germany in 1990 More Soviet nuclear power plants in the new federal states were shut down, "which did not meet West German safety standards," Schreurs said.

Germany has been cooling down on nuclear energy since 2000, but it was Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011, the government ruled.

Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly set new dates. Of the country's 17 reactors, eight were shut down immediately. The seven still in operation reactors should be closed by 2022.

The closure of the facilities has created a new industry.

"After the shutdown of a power plant, you still need people who are experts in radioactive material You still need people who know how to handle robots that work in nuclear facilities," Schreurs said.

This know-how could be exported to other countries. There are around 450 nuclear power plants worldwide, many of which are nearing the end of their lifespan.

"So they do not have the same expertise as here in Germany," said Schreurs. "In other words, Germany is likely to play an important role in helping other countries tackle decommissioning."

Note the energy gap

Germany currently sources about 12% of its electricity from its seven nuclear reactors and more than 40% from coal, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The big question is whether renewable energy can close the gap reliably, especially in a country with a large energy-intensive manufacturing sector that produces cars, steel and chemicals.

Germany currently produces more electricity than it needs and exports the surplus to neighboring countries. One difficulty, however, is that the supply of renewable energy is variable.
  Germany gives up last hard coal, but struggles to curb its emissions

"The largest The problem with security of supply is when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, "said Hanns Koenig from energy market analyst Aurora Energy Research.

That could be solved by efforts to create a much more integrated European electricity market.

The end of the atomic era will mark Germany in another way.

After the cooling tower fell, Day described the surreal feeling of passing the construction site as "no landmark."

"It was amazing," he said. "And it has to be even more amazing for the people who have lived here for 30 years."

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