WHEN THE WIND TURNS

Most people view Germany’s switch to renewable energy sources positively, but they also fear possible burdens and shortcomings. Here are four accounts of the positive impact the switch is having on individual lives.

By Sina Zimmermann

Christina Wulf, 28, PhD student

As part of my doctorate, I have spent two and a half years researching how we can use hydrogen in the energy system. A hydrogen station was opened in Hamburg’s HafenCity in February, for example. In these stations, hydrogen is produced through electrolysis and can then be used to fuel specially adapted buses and cars. I am researching how much energy is used in this process, what the alternatives are, and where there is potential to save on costs.
For me, the switch to renewables is important as it enables my research into renewable energies and opens up good career opportunities.

 

Ralf Borchardt, 48, project manager for reactor dismantling

I have been working on nuclear power plants for 30 years. Initially I was an engineer for assembling reactors, and now I am in charge of their dismantling. Qualified personnel will clearly continue to be needed in the dismantling of nuclear plants in Germany, so my professional future is secure. Also, working in nuclear plants is no more dangerous than any other job. It’s not like bomb disposal; as long as you follow all the radiation protection measures, nothing can happen. Metre-thick walls and water shields protect us from radiation. I am currently working on the Obrigheim nuclear power plant in the Neckar district of northern Germany, where we are in the process of planning the reactor’s demolition. This sort of job takes between five and six years. At the moment we are installing manipulators, band saws, plasma torches and other cutting tools in the rooms to enable the reactor units to be dismantled and packed up remotely. In spring we will be able to get started with the actual dismantling. After they are taken apart, the reactor units will be packed up and finally taken to a permanent repository. To be honest, in the past I thought I would end up generating electricity from these plants; it was a big readjustment for me when they shut down. But dismantling is now another aspect of the job and I find this task exciting too.

 

Anja Koops, 40, mother

We have lived in Geesthacht, northern Germany, for almost ten years. I actually didn’t want to live in a small town again – and certainly not close to the Krümmel nuclear power plant. We used to live in Hamburg, but when our son Lucas was seven months old we wanted to have a garden for him to play in. When the study was published about the link between childhood cancer and proximity to nuclear power plants we were really worried: the closer children live to a plant, the greater the likelihood that they will get ill. Then you start wondering: What if this affects our child? Should we stay here? Where should we move to? It was a really oppressive feeling. In May 2011 we found out the plant was to be permanently closed. Now, when we are cycling along the Elbe and see the plant, we feel much more at ease.

 

“Wärme-Hamster”, 4, hot water storage tank

I sit in the cellar all day long, next to the central heating. It’s nice and dark down here. To look at me, you would think that my mother was a thermos flask and my father was an advertising column, but actually my dad is Rolf Förster from Energie Depot, and he looks nothing like me. Some 2,500 litres of water gurgles away in my belly. I spend the whole day heating this water up, using the warmth of the sun. Then, when it reaches almost 60 °C, it sits in my belly until my owner comes home from work. Thanks to me, he can enjoy a nice hot shower and a cosy warm living room. Boilers like me have become really popular since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.