Just over 50 years ago,
the Austrian government decided to build
three nuclear reactors along the Danube River.
It was the age of the atom, the height of the space race.
Nuclear power seemed like the natural next step for Austria.
But politically, it was risky,
and the decision was extremely controversial.
It took many years of arguments and protests.
But eventually, the country held a referendum.
The government asked the people of Austria:
"do you want nuclear power?"
And the vote was on a knife-edge.
When everything was counted, 50.5% said...
The trouble was, they'd already built the first reactor,
they just hadn't turned it on yet.
- This nuclear power plant was built up from 1972 to 1976.
Everything was here.
The power plant was ready for operation, including the fuel rods.
They only have to push the red button to put it into operation.
And then, the chancellor of Austria decided to hold a public referendum.
We like to say this special nuclear power plant
never splits any atoms,
but people, families and political parties.
The capacity of the nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf
was 750 megawatts.
This reactor should have produced electricity
for 1.8 million households.
- So what do you do with a never-used nuclear power plant?
It's not like you can just flat-pack it and ship it over the border
to somewhere that does want it.
And this was incredibly expensive.
Adjusting for inflation, in today's money, this plant cost over a billion euro.
- When the result of the public referendum
was mentioned on the national TV stations,
for 200 people here in Zwentendorf it was a shock.
Nobody estimated this result.
The owners, they decided to conservate the reactor
because they thought that politicians will change their mind
and they are able to put the reactor into operation
in one, or two, or three years.
But that never happened.
So in 1985, they started to sell parts of the equipment.
But this selling process was not very successful,
and today we have 99% of the equipment still here.
EVN bought the nuclear power plant in 2005.
We don't have plans now to use it.
But if there's some day the need for a gas-fired power plant
or an alternative-fired power plant, for example with biomass,
it's a perfect location.
In the meantime, it's a training centre for nuclear engineers
for training how you can rebuild a reactor.
We offer it as a filming location.
We use it for music festivals, 15,000 people outside and inside.
We installed, in 2009, a solar power plant.
And since 2010, we offer guided tours.
It's open to the public. You can book your reservation,
but normally we are full for six months within some minutes.
EVN bought not only a technical building,
we bought also a very specific piece of Austria's contemporary history.
Here, everything is like it was more than 40 years ago.
I love the special atmosphere you have here,
and I'm really glad to present it to other people.
- After the referendum, Austria went on
to entirely ban nuclear power within its borders,
maybe because the residents had concerns about accidents,
or maybe because they didn't want to deal with the waste and long-term planning,
or maybe, if you believe conspiracy theories,
because some of the people who ran energy companies back then
were worried about prices dropping
and threw a load of money at a scare campaign.
The story changes a lot depending on who's telling it.
And it is the politically easy option to phase out nuclear power.
Particularly now as wind and solar continue to become more and more viable,
a lot of countries are phasing out nuclear.
I shouldn't be able to stand here.
This reactor should've run for about 35 years,
and now it'll be almost finished being decommissioned.
There'd be hardly anything left.
Instead, we got a training centre, a filming location,
and, yeah, a very expensive occasional tourist attraction.
But perhaps most importantly, we got a museum.
Because this reactor doesn't have to be decommissioned.
It's the only one on the planet
where this 1970s dream of the atomic age can be preserved,
if only by accident.
Many, many thanks to Stefan Zach and all the team at EVN
who gave us so much access to this incredible place.
You can find out more about them at the link in the description.