Photographer Bernhard Ludewig has been documenting German nuclear technology across the world for seven years. Here, he introduces four of his most captivating images.
Text & Photos: Bernhard Ludewig
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HYPNOTIC. The TRIGA reactor in Mainz produces a ‘pulse’ for research purposes. In other words, the reactor triggers an uncontrolled chain reaction that takes place for a short time interval before naturally coming to an end. The reactor lies in a pool of water, which slows down the neutrons emitted during the reaction and acts as a cooling agent. The image shows pneumatic tubes descending into the reactor core, where they irradiate the samples. I was able to place my camera just over the surface of the water. The charged particles travelling through the water created a light effect: a hypnotic blue glow that left me spellbound.
SURREAL Germany’s last building project for a nuclear power plant is currently taking place in Angra, Brazil, between São Paulo and Rio. Construction began in the 1980s, but financial problems have led to several delays. Here, the first German facility went online in 2010. A second one has long been underway. The surroundings, along the Atlantic coast, are truly breathtaking. The completed reactor is painted white, while the neighbouring buildings, surrounded by palm trees, don pastel colours and look like an ensemble of Art Deco structures. In the early evenings, the tropical sunset is reflected on the dome.
GLEAMING Here we are at the Emsland nuclear power plant, not far from the Dutch border. The image offers a rare glimpse of what lies inside the containment building. When the reactor is in operation, it is covered by a thick concrete lid. But once a year, the reactor must be opened so that the spent fuel pins can be replaced with fresh ones. A crane lifts the heavy concrete lid, lying twelve metres deep, to reveal the gleaming stainless steel elements inside. The containment building is then flooded with water, which acts as a shield against the hazardous radiation from the fuel pins (see following image).
OPEN. The Gösgen nuclear power plant in Swizerland is also a German model. Here, we see the annual operation for replacing the fuel pins underway. The reactor lies open inside the containment building, which has been flooded with water. On the top left, a gripper extends downwards to collect the fuel pins from a depth of 16 metres. The spent fuel pins are subsequently placed in a neighbouring water tank, where they are cooled for five years before being transferred to a dry Castor container. This is what makes up the infamous ‘nuclear waste’, for which the German government is still seeking a final storage place.