This isn’t the country’s first attempt at an atomic renaissance. Will the Dutch actually make it work this time?
The Netherlands ― On this windswept peninsula near the Belgian border, the trees grow shrubby and the dune grasses bow horizontally before the North Sea’s gusts. But along the coast, industrial spires rise vertically, defying nature and creating a skyline of steeples to the rival faiths in this country’s energy future.
Ivory-colored wind turbines bristle from flat meadows. Gray smokestacks reach skyward from an oil refinery’s bramble of metal pipes. Steel pylons tower over the salt-sprayed landscape, fringing the two-lane road with a garland of high-voltage power lines.
Yet for half a century, the steadiest emission-free energy here has come from inside what looks like a stubby, dull-looking grain silo.
That’s the Borssele Nuclear Power Station, the only full-scale commercial reactor the Dutch ever built. Opened in 1973, the complex machine for capturing the energy from split uranium atoms was the second reactor built in the country, and it provides about 3% of the Netherlands’ electricity. It’s relatively small compared to other plants of the time, as it was originally planned as the first of six in this area. But that was back in fission electricity’s midcentury glory days, before Chernobyl and Fukushima transformed from far-flung place names into synonyms for catastrophe that compelled many nations to abandon their atomic ambitions and embrace fossil fuels.
The Borssele reactor’s lonely 49 years may soon come to an end.