Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in Austria

This Power Plant Was Completed Just in Time to Be Abandoned

This Power Plant Was Completed Just in Time to Be Abandoned

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
March 4 2015 8:18 AM

Zwentendorf: The Power Plant Completed Just in Time to Be Abandoned

The control room at Zwentendorf.

Photo: c1at/Creative Commons

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For a brief moment in the 1970s, it looked like the future of Austria’s power production was going to be in a handful of massive nuclear plants, before the entire vision was put down by massive public outcry. However, before the people could vote down their nuclear future, one plant was completely finished—they just never turned it on.

Built in the mid-to-late 1970s, the plant in Zwentendorf, 25 miles west of Vienna, cost about a billion euros. The tall, monolithic building was outfitted with a modern-at-the-time boiling-water reactor complete with a huge chimney tower scraping the sky next to the central building. The facility was even outfitted with the dangerous radioactive nuclear rods; all it needed was the go ahead to turn the lights on. Then the public had its say.

Looking down into the reactor pressure vessel.

Photo: DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images


The Zwentendorf facility was just the first of a number of planned nuclear plants in the country, but anti-nuclear sentiment exploded during its construction. In a referendum passed in 1978, the Austrian people voted by a margin just over 50 percent to ban all nuclear power plants. And with that, the new plant was dead in the water.

After the law was passed, the Zwentendorf plant was partially dismantled and the facility was used as a sort of spare-parts warehouse for compatible plants in Germany. In addition, the space has been used for film shooting and security training. However, more than anything, the massive empty complex stands as a reminder of a pivotal moment in the country’s history.

The area under the reactor core at the Zwentendorf plant.

Photo: DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images

Visitors on a guided tour of the Zwentendorf plant in March 2011.

Photo: DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images


Photo: DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images

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