German utility RWE on 9 August completed demolition of the cooling tower at the Mülheim-Kärlich NPP in Rhineland-Palatinate as part of its decommissioning programme. Work to dismantle the reactor building continues. Two remote-controlled excavators — one fitted with a giant hammer, the other with large pliers — removed last props at the base of the hollow 80-metre-high structure, triggering the collapse of what remained of the once 162-metre-high tower. The tower's top half had in recent years been chewed down by a hydraulic machine that circumnavigated its rim. "The collapse came a little earlier than expected in the simulations," demolition project leader Olaf Day said.
Dismantling of the 1,300MWe NPP began in 2004 after a brief power-generating life. The plant was approved for construction in 1975. However, in 1988, Germany's federal BVG administrative court halted the project after testing and only 13 months of regular power generation, citing deviance from approved construction plans and its siting in a volcanic zone with underground faultlines. For 10 years, which saw multiple legal appeals, RWE staff maintained the plant in case it was reactivated, but in a 1998 final ruling BVG cancelled the building permit because the quake risk had been overlooked. RWE then decided in 2000 to proceed with closure. By 2002, RWE said, 1,700 tons of radioactive material, including fuel rods, had been removed and put in a repository, pending Germany's decision due by 2031 on a final underground nuclear waste disposal faclity.
The site's clearance, involving the removal of 500,000 tons of concrete and metal, as well as a possible decontamination effort, is expected to take until 2029. Remaining structures on the site include its vacated reactor dome. The plant originally cost RWE, €3.6 billion ($4 billion) and its demolition will cost €1 billion, according to regional public broadcaster SWR. Seven reactors are still operational in Germany, with the last due to be phased out in late 2022.