A week and change ago, I hopped a train (OK, a series of trains) to the northwest German village of Kleinensiel. I was the only person who exited the regional train in Kleinensiel. I could see why. The town’s sole restaurant was closed; its kiosk had a “back in 20 minutes” sign in the window that, I can assure you, was there for more than 20 minutes; and no one answered the door at the two guesthouses I found.
So what was I doing in this little backwater*? Actually, Kleinensiel’s diminutiveness was the reason I was there. That, and the fact that its nuclear power plant had been shut down a year earlier.
I’ve written before about Germany’s complicated relationship with nuclear power. Now, for the one-year anniversary of the government’s initial shutdown of half the country’s nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, I was working on a piece for the LA Times on the effects the shutdown has had — on both the German energy mix and towns like Kleinensiel.
To give you a sense of just how central the Unterweser nuclear plant is to life in Kleinensiel: The town has a population of 700. The plant, until the shutdown last month, employed 700 — not to mention all the contractors and inspectors and such who relied on Unterweser for their livelihoods. When Unterweser went online 33 years ago, it was the largest nuclear plant in the world, allowing tiny Kleinensiel (trans: Little Sluice) to supply three million homes with power.
This is the plant that looms over the single-story houses of Kleinensiel:
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