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The anti-nuclear power movement in Germany Le mouvement anti-nucléaire en Allemagne Dieter Rucht P aris, 7. Mai 2009. My background related to today‘s topic. Initially I had a neutral position on nuclear power Field research for my dissertation in 1977-79 Taking a stance

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The anti-nuclear power movement in GermanyLe mouvement anti-nucléaire en AllemagneDieter RuchtParis, 7. Mai 2009

my background related to today s topic
My background related to today‘s topic
  • Initially I had a neutral position on nuclear power
  • Field research for my dissertation in 1977-79
  • Taking a stance
  • Engagement in local groups (Freundeskreis Gorleben etc.)
  • Engagement at the federal level

(Bundesverband Bürgerinitiativen Umweltschutz, with Petra Kelly, Jo Leinen etc.)

  • Disengagement after 1981; concentration on scientific work on social movements and protest mobilization
  • Last years: low profile re-engagement, but not specifically in anti-nuclear struggles
The ground to be covered:

1. The subject „

2. The context at the movement‘s rise

3. Developmental stages

3.1 The formation period

3.2. Escalation

3.3 The gradual phasing out

4. Ideology and aims

5. Organizations and networks

6. Strategies and actions

7. Impacts and perspectives

1 the subject anti nuclear power movement
1. The subject „anti-nuclear (power) movement

»Die Gegner der Atomenergie sind Reaktionäre. Sie wenden sich gegen den Fortschritt. Sie wollen den Bürger mit einer Strategie des Rückschritts und der Armut beglücken.«

(Helmut Kohl am 10.10.1978 anlässlich des Energie-Kongresses der CDU; zit. nach Der Spiegel vom 2.7.1979, S. 129)

»The opponents of nuclear power are reactionaries. They turn against progess. They want to make happy the citizenry by a strategy of backlash and poverty. «

the anti nuclear power movement
The anti-nuclear power movement

Is it a social/political movement?

Is it a new social movement?

Is is part of the broader environmental movement?

Is it a (trans-)national movement?

the anti nuclear movement
The anti-nuclear movement
  • umfasst die Individuen, Gruppen und Organisationen, die sich im Rahmen eines größeren, netzwerkartigen Zusammenhangs, dem sie sich selbst zurechnen, aktiv und insbesondere mit Mitteln des kollektiven öffentlichen Protests gegen die zivile Nutzung der Atomenergie wenden.
  • Da potentielle Schäden, vor allem nukleare Katastrophen, mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit eine grenzüberschreitende Wirkung entfalten, bezieht sich die Ablehnung von Atomkraft in aller Regel nicht nur auf eine bestimmte Anlage, sondern richtet sich prinzipiell gegen die Einführung oder fortlaufende zivile Nutzung der Atomenergie in allen Teilen der Welt.
2 the context at the movement s rise
2. The context at the movement‘s rise
  • No direct precursor movements
  • No nuclear weapons in the hands of the German army
  • Early preparations for the civil use of nuclear power (1955/56)
  • First non-experimental reactor in Kahl (1960 – later than Franc: Chinon 1957), second reactor in Grundremmingen (1966)
  • Electricity producers reluctant towards nuclear power until 1966/67
  • Breakthrough with the third nuclear program (1968-72)
  • Energy program of 1973 planned 20 times of the capacity existing in 1973
  • Public opinion generally indifferent towards nuclear power
3 developmental stages
3. Developmental stages
  • Few isolated and small protests in the 50s and 70s
  • 3.1. The formation period
  • First organised protests 1970/71 (Neckarwesthamm, Esensham, Bonn, Breisach)
  • Successful protest in Breisach (65,000 formal objecters), partly influence by resistance in the Alsace (Fessenheim)
  • First demonstrations and occupation in Wyhl
  • Creation of Bundesverband Bürgerinitiativen Umweltschutz 1972
  • Critical voices published in governmental booklet (BMFT 1974)
3 2 escalation and stagnation 1975 1985
3.2 Escalation and Stagnation (1975-1985
  • Tenacious resistance in the Wyhl area
  • „Battles“ in Brokdorf and Grohnde around 1976/77
  • Pro-nuclear gatherings in 1976/77 mainly supported by trade unions (Brokdorf, Mühlheim, Bonn and, above all, Dortmund with 35,000 participants)
  • Mass demonstrations in Brokdorf, Kalkar (Fast Breeder), Bonn and Hannover
  • Gorleben as the key conflict, spurred by the Three Mile Island event
  • Alternative lists and the green party
  • Increase of sabotage activities (1983-85)
  • Wackersdorf as an additional focus of conflict (880,000 formal objections)
  • Chernobyl as the turning point
3 3 the gradual phasing out
3.3 The gradual phasing out
  • 1986: Social Democrats opt for phasing out
  • Trade unions increasingly critical of nuclear power
  • No additional nuclear power capacity
  • Decreasing anti-nuclear mobilization
  • 1992/93 first round consensus negotions; decision in 2000
  • Castor transports as a new issue until today
Abbildung 1: Entwicklung von Protesten gegen die zivile Nutzung von Atomenergie in der Bundesrepublik, 1970-2004Quelle: Prodat/Rucht
Abbildung 2: Entwicklung der Teilnehmerzahl an Protesten gegen die zivile Nutzung von Atomenergie in der Bundesrepublik, 1970-2004Quelle: Prodat/Rucht
4 ideology arguments and aims
4. Ideology, arguments and aims
  • Mainly left-wing
  • Conservative groups particularly in rural areas (farmes, wine growers)
  • Small pocket of right-extremists

Major lines of arguments:

- Risk of nuclear accidents (internally and externally triggered)

- Risk of low-level radiation

- Unsolved nuclear waste problems

- Undesireable structures (industrial-military complex, centralization,

undemocratic decision-making)

- economically not viable

5 organizations and networks
5. Organizations and networks
  • Strongly decentralized network
  • Regional strongholds (Baden-Alsace - 60 groups in 1977, Gorleben, Brokdorf, Wackersdorf, Ahaus etc.)
  • Autonomous local groups, grassroots groups, direct action groups
  • (Gewalfreie Aktion, X-tausendmal quer…)
  • „Federal conferences“ (Bundeskonferenz, Atommüllkonferenz)
  • National umbrella association (BBU)
  • (Inter-)National environmental organizations (BUND, NABU, Greenpeace, Robin Wood, FoE Europe)
  • (Sections of) political parties, trade unions, churches, youth organizations, e.g. Christdemokraten gegen Atomenergie, Aktionskreis Leben…)
  • Scientific networks and environmental institutes (Öko-Institut)
6 strategies and actions
6. Strategies and actions
  • Informing and education the public
  • Collections of signatures
  • Juridical and procedural complaints
  • Electoral and parliamentary activities
  • Demonstrations, rallies
  • Occupations, blockades
  • Sabotage, physical violence
  • Promotion of energy saving and regenerative energies
  • Remarkable shifts of strategies over time
Proteste gegen Castor-Transport bei Gorleben: Atomkraftgegner blockieren die Gleis für den Castor-Transport
7 impacts and perspectives
7. Impacts and perspectives

Nuclear energy is still in place (accounts for about one quarter of the electricity production)


- Public awareness & information

  • Agenda setting
  • Changes of energy consumption patterns
  • Drastic reduction of nuclear programs
  • Tightened security standards
  • No new orders of reactors since the late 70s
  • Prevention of specific projects (Wyhl, Kalkar, WAA Gorleben and Wackersdorf)
  • Successful promotion of „soft“ energies
and perspectives
…and perspectives
  • New attempts of pro-nuclear forces to extend the operation of reactors or even to cancel the phasing out


  • Solid and stable majority in the population against nuclear power (two thirds)
  • Survival of rudimentary anti-nuclear networks
  • High awareness of current and former activists

 A revival of nuclear power in Germany is unlikely.