Hundreds of traffic lights in city of Hamburg in northern Germany, stopped working on July 4 after a power cut caused by an incident at the Kruemmel nuclear power station nearby. Around 1,500 of the 1,800 traffic signals in Germany's second biggest city suddenly blacked out and lights at shopping centres also failed. An incident at a transformer of the Kruemmel power station triggered the blackout, said a spokesman from Swedish firm Vattenfall, which runs the plant. The plant only reopened two weeks earlier after a two-year shut down triggered by a fire.
A few days after the July 4 incident, on July 9, Vattenfall admitted there were additional problems. Vattenfall said it had also discovered that at least one of the fuelrods inside the reactor was "defective". The defect was not connected to the shutdown of the reactor during the electrical transformer fire on July 4. That incident was the second transformer-related shut down in a week for the 1346 MW BWR. It is unlikely the reactor will be restarted until April or May 2010, according to Vattenfall. The company has decided to buy two new transformers and it will take until spring 2010 to receive and install them.
Vattenfall promised a complete review of the management of the station, saying the short-circuit that triggered the fire in a transformer had the same cause as the transformer fire two years ago. A few days later the plant manager was fired.
The shutdown of Kruemmel has prompted Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel to call for the immediate closure of the eight oldest plants. According to the IAEA, construction of Kruemmel started in 1974, with grid-connection in September 1983 and start of commercial operation in March 1984. Gabriel also said that Germany needed to introduce a nationwide authority to monitor the power stations. At present, the plants are monitored by regional authorities.
The previous German government of SPD and Greens introduced in 2000 the phaseout program for the 17 nuclear reactors by 2021. But the conservatives argue that nuclear energy must be kept alive to allow renewable industries to catch up as Germany must meet long-term commitments to cut carbon dioxide emissions. According to the phaseout schedule, three reactors have to be shut in 2010 (Biblis A and B and Neckarwestheim 1), with four more in the following two years. (see Nuclear Monitor 686, 2 April 2009)
Meanwhile, it seems that Vattenfall is again losing a lot of customers. After the 2007 accidents in Kruemmel (and Brunsbuettel, which is still off-line) the company lost already some 250,000 customers in Northern-Germany.
Kruemmel operator Vattenfall unwillingly turned nuclear safety into an important election issue in Germany, although many people say that the nuclear issue is not decisive in the question on which party to vote. On September 5, three weeks before the general-elections, a nationwide anti-nuclear demonstration will take place in Berlin.
Sources: The Local, (Brd), 4 July 2009 / Der Spiegel, 7 July 2009 / Nuclear Engineering International 9 July 2009 / EarthTimes, 9 July 2009
Contact: Dirk Seifert, RobinWood, Nernstweg 32, 22765 Hamburg, Germany
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