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Lubmin’s metamorphosis

September 23, 2015

I’m spending this week in northeastern Germany preparing the 2nd edition of the one and only book I’ve ever written in German: Die deutsch-deutsche Geschichte des Kernkraftwerkes Greifswald: Atomenergie zwischen Ost und West. Originally published in 2005, it tries to explain why a vast Soviet-designed nuclear power plant – with 8 planned reactors it was designed to become the world’s largest nuclear facility! – that was built on the territory of the former GDR was shut down in connection with Germany’s 1990 reunification. Was its operation considered too dangerous? Was it unnecessary to keep the facility operating after East Germany’s industry and its electricity consumption collapsed? Was the phase-out part of a grand strategy to turn the former GDR into a pioneer for green energy production? Was it perhaps part of a new anti-Russian German foreign policy? Or was it an irrational political decision taken by people who had no idea of nuclear energy as a high technology? Read the book and find out!

But things have changed at the former nuclear site during the 25 years that have now passed since Germany’s reunification. While Lubmin, as the place is called, is no longer a site where Russian atomic energy meets German engineering traditions, it now serves as a key transit point for Russian natural gas on its way to the rest of Europe: it is here that the Nord Stream Pipeline, hotly debated in media a few years ago, ascends from the depths of the Baltic Sea for further transit to markets. The control station, where the Siberian gas is measured, cleaned, reheated and compressed, sits just opposite the former nuclear plant’s reactor buildings and huge machine hall.

Energiewerke Nord GmbH (EWN), the state company in charge of decommissioning the Greifswald NPP, seeks to use the arrival of the gas pipeline as a key component in its effort to establish a “Synergy Park” in Lubmin. A number of industrial companies have been attracted to the area, including businesses related to the biofuels, photovoltaics, and wind turbine industry – thus symbolizing a shift in Lubmin from nuclear power not only to natural gas, but to renewable energy as well. But there is also disappointment: EWN has long had a vision of erecting several large gas-fired power plants at the site. These would be able to make use both of the Russian gas that arrives from the sea and of the old high-voltage electricity transmission lines that the Soviet-designed nuclear facility used until 1990. Vattenfall, which until recently owned all transmission lines in the former GDR, invested heavily in modernizing the grid. But the two or three projects that were initiated have now all been canceled. Why? Political problems with permissions and also difficulties making the gas power plants competitive enough.

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