Wed, 06/26/2013 - 13:07

The fall of German nuclear power

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de

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Photo credit: Lars Knöpke

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de

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Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de
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Although made in the wake of the 2011 disasters at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Germany’s decision to phase out its nuclear power industry has deep historical roots. After a building permit was issued in 1976, protests of one project—the Brokdorf reactor—eventually grew into numerous civil-war-like standoffs between police and marchers. As police clashed with protesters, the violence escalated, and about a month later, some 30,000 protesters gathered at Brokdorf, presaging a halt in construction ordered in the fall of 1977. When, in 1981, construction was set to restart, 100,000 protesters faced off with more than 10,000 police, including these riot-gear-wielding officers outside the Brokdorf plant which, despite the protests, opened in 1986. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)

As part of its ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful fast breeder reactor project, the West German government pursued a 300-megawatt-electric prototype reactor near the city of Kalkar in April 1973. Following protests at Wyhl and Brokdorf, the Kalkar project drew massive opposition. A large demonstration in September 1977 was met by a huge police operation that included the complete closure of autobahns in northern Germany and identity checks of almost 150,000 people, a process pictured here. The largest Kalkar demonstration occurred during the so-called German Autumn, when the Red Army Faction kidnapped and murdered a prominent industry official and a pro-Palestinian group hijacked a Lufthansa plane and diverted it to Somalia. Though those events were not directly connected to anti-nuclear protests, the period is generally considered one of the tensest times in Germany’s post-World War II history. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)

As with Brokdorf, the area around the Kalkar fast breeder reactor site became a setting for expansive confrontations between police and protestors. Here, police in riot gear and armored vehicles wait for protesters behind coils of barbed wire in the fall of 1977. Despite hearings that questioned the safety of the Kalkar reactor, the government decided to proceed with the fast breeder in 1982, and the facility was complete by mid-1985. A newly elected state government clearly opposed the project, however, and the Chernobyl accident in April 1986 undermined it. In early 1991, the German federal government announced that the facility would not be put into operation, even though its price tag had grown from an early estimate of $150 to $200 million to about $4 billion. The site is now an amusement park. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)

In the aftermath of Chernobyl, the possibility of a German nuclear phaseout became a mainstream political idea. New nuclear construction was essentially unthinkable, and few nuclear issues were relevant in the period—except for the shipment of nuclear waste. The anti-nuclear movement concentrated its energy on these so-called Castor transports, transforming the operations into mega-events that dominated media coverage. A May 1996 transport included a single waste cask, yet required a police force of 19,000. A transport in March 1997 included six casks and faced 10,000 protesters and 30,000 police, some of whom are shown here. As in protests of the 1970s and 1980s, these turned violent, and the government’s response was often viewed as disproportionate. As it turned out, the Castor-transport controversy built a bridge between early nuclear power debates and a 1998 change in federal government that led, eventually, to the nuclear exit now underway in Germany. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)

A closer look at a Castor transport, on the road with its police escort. (Photo credit: Lars Knöpke)

A massive deployment of police, plus some water cannons, during demonstrations against the Brokdorf reactor. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)

Water cannons at work during a Brokdorf demonstration. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)

Police trudge, grim-faced, during demonstrations over the final nuclear waste repository site near Gorleben, selected in 1977 and located in the eastern-most corner of West Germany. The project played a particularly significant role because it remained a focal point of the anti-nuclear movement throughout the 1990s. The debate over a final repository remains open. (Photo credit: Günter Zint/panfoto.de)