7:52 / 11. februar 2014
Barsebäck Nuclear Power Plant, Sweden

Barsebäck is a decommissioned nuclear power plant in Sweden. Situated just 20 km from Copenhagen, on the other side of the Øresund Strait, the two iconic reactors of the power plant are clearly visible from the Copenhagen shoreline, sticking up like a big Swedish double “fuck you” to Denmark, a country that does not have nuclear energy facilities of its own and campaigned for the plants closure during its entire lifetime.

The first reactor began commercial operation in 1975, the second in 1977, and the plant provided electricity to the south of Sweden, and, I’m sure against the wishes of many of its residents, provided cheap power to Denmark. Due to the Swedish decision to begin phasing out nuclear power, along with pressure from the Danish government, the last reactor ceased operations in 2005, a good twenty years before its planned decommissioning date. At the moment the plant is used for training engineers from other nuclear power plants, as preparations are made for its dismantling which is expected to begin in 2022.

Barsebäck was a Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) – what that means is that uranium is used in order to produce steam. The steam drives a turbine, which in turn drives a generator that generates electricity. A Boiling Water Reactor resembles a kettle that boils 1,000 litres of water in one second. As you can see from the pictures, the control room was still pretty damn 70s futuristic analogue when it was still in use in 2005, there is hardly a computer screen in sight – but can you imagine the task of upgrading all those analogue switches and cables and levers to digital processes? And yes, there was a red button that you only pressed in case of a massive emergency. During my visit I had to wear special shoes and a hard hat, all the usual jazz, and I had my radiation levels monitored on the way in and the way out to make sure I hadn’t picked up too much on my way round. Does it sound strange if I say I was a little bit disappointed to find out I had exactly the same amount of radiation when I came out as when I went in? It’s not that I wanted to become too radioactive or anything, but a small part of me wanted to get just a bit, not enough to do any harm.

It’s difficult to imagine how the usually fairly non-confrontational Swedes came to decide that Barsebäck would be a good place to stick a nuclear power plant. If anything had gone wrong there, Copenhagen was right in the firing line, and it’s just very hard to imagine the circumstances in which somebody actually gave the “yes” stamp to the project – Denmark and Sweden have, of course, had their share of rivalry, war, rape and pillage over the centuries, but looking at it as an outsider, placing this huge symbol of everything that the Danes had decided that they didn’t want in their country just over the water from their capital, actually at just about the closest possible point to Denmark, does seem a teeny bit antagonistic. They architects even went so far as to put only one window in one of the reactors, looking out over Copenhagen, just so Danish visitors could get a good look at just how close their capital was. I guess that’s quite funny. (you can see a picture of said window below, adorned with cheerful fake flower).

Above: the window towards Copenhagen, and below, from the outside