SWEDEN It is now more than 40 years since Ringhals nuclear power plant went into operation. Its construction commenced in 1969 and Torsten Johansson, who was employee number 2, has made the entire journey with the plant as a construction worker.

Torsten Johansson was born within walking distance of the site where Ringhals nuclear power plant was subsequently built. His father was a carpenter and ­Johansson started working with him as a young boy of 14. At first he was not very positive about Ringhals because the beautiful headland where he had played as a child was bought for the power plant to be built on. Nevertheless, he was one of the first people to apply and to be employed at Ringhals in February 1969.

“I was employee number 2 only because there was another builder there who strongly claimed he’d been with Vattenfall for so long that he should be number 1,” says ­Johansson.

His first job was to hang construction drawings in an old chapel in the area, which served as the first office. But there was more to come. A few months after he had started, the headland of Ringhals was transformed into a mass of diggers, excavators, pneumatic drills, blasters and trucks. As a consequence, ­Johansson’s next job was to make sure that accommodation was available for the builders. So he worked with assembling huts brought to the site from other power-plant projects around Sweden and also with restoring farmhouses that the company had bought for the purpose.

Over the next few years, Ringhals would become one of Europe’s biggest construction sites, employing almost 3,500 people. Johansson got a new task: the formwork for the cooling water intake for Ringhals 1 and 2.

Apart from Ringhals, there were also a lot of other major building projects under way in the Varberg area, where Ringhals is located. Therefore, it was not long before there was a significant shortage of labour. To solve the problem, ­Vattenfall set out to recruit construction workers from northern Sweden who had been involved in the construction of the hydro-power plants there.

Johansson had a number of these “hydro-power navvies from the north” in his team and got to know them well. They were older than him and had a great deal of experience, but they also had a reputation for being surly and difficult to get on with.

“But it was never a problem for me,” he says. “They really accepted me and I learnt a lot from them. We had a great time together and they’re the best workmates I ever had. They came down to the west coast in the summer to visit me long after they’d retired.”

Ringhals expanded and the workforce became increasingly international. Soon there were some dozen different nationalities working there, and the way they did things could differ a lot – even with people from neighbouring countries.

“I remember when we were building Ringhals 3 some Danes came to work on the site. They were wearing suits and smart shoes because they assumed their employer would provide their clothes. That proved a bit of a problem for our manager,” says Johansson.

“I was employee number 2 because there was another builder there who thought he’d been with Vattenfall for so long that he should be number 1.”

After the construction of Ringhals was completed in the early 1980s, Johansson remained with the company and eventually became a joinery foreman in charge of a team of seven men. The job sometimes could involve some slightly unusual proj­ects. In 1990, a group of Bulgarian Turk asylum-seekers arrived in Sweden. There was no room for them in the immigration camps, so the immigration authorities hastily rented the Ringhals holiday village to accommodate them.

The Bulgarian Turks soon settled into the little community. They were not happy, however, to sit around idly on the camp. Instead they volunteered their services in order to give something back to Swedish society.

So they took on the job of cleaning up the beaches between Ringhals and Träslövsläge, a stretch of coast of some 75 kilometres. They asked Ringhals for assistance, and ­Johansson provided them with transport and tools. During the weeks they were working there ­Johansson got to know them well. “Many of them still live in the area. They are wonderful people and I still meet up with them from time to time,” he says.

During his time with the company, Johansson saw Ringhals both as a construction site and an operational nuclear power station and was always happy in his work. Though, when he looks back, it is probably the construction phase, when he and his team worked hard and played hard together, that is closest to his heart. “I always really enjoyed working at Ringhals and Vattenfall was a good employer,” he says.

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