In pictures: 40 years of German anti-nuclear movement

An interesting overview of the four decades of anti-nuclear activism in Germany, courtesy Duetsche Welle.

A movement is born

Germany’s anti nuclear movement got its start in the early 1970s, when protestors came out in force against plans for a nuclear power plant at Wyhl, close to the French border. Police were accused of using unnecessary force against the peaceful demonstrations. But the activists ultimately won, and plans for the Wyhl power station were scrapped in 1975.

Civil disobedience

Following the success of civil disobedience in Wyhl, similar protests were held in Brokdorf and Kalkar in the late 70s. Though they failed to prevent reactors being built, they proved that the anti-nuclear movement was a growing force.

No to nuclear waste

Gorleben has seen fierce protest against the nuclear industry ever since plans to store nuclear waste in a disused salt mine there were first announced in 1977. The site is a sparsely populated area close to the then-border with East Germany. Yet locals quickly showed they weren’t going to accept radioactive material close to their homes without a fight.

People power

From the beginning, the German anti-nuclear movement brought together church organizations, farmers and concerned local residents – along with student activists, academics, and peace protestors who saw a link between nuclear power and the atom bomb. Being at the frontline of the Cold War meant the threat of nuclear war loomed large in many German minds.

Breaking into mainstream politics

In the late 70s, anti-nuclear activists joined with other environment and social justice campaigners to form the Green Party. Today, this is a major force in German politics and probably the most powerful Green Party in the world. They won their first seats in the German federal parliament in 1983.

Worst fears realized

In 1986, a reactor meltdown hundreds of miles away in Ukraine hardened public opinion against nuclear power in Germany. The Chernobyl disaster released radioactive fallout across Europe. In Germany, people were warned not to drink milk, eat fresh meat or let children play on playgrounds, where the sand might have been contaminated.

End to nuclear becomes law

In 1998, the Green Party came into German federal government, as the junior partner in a coalition with the Social Democrats. In 2002, the “red-green” government passed a law banning new nuclear power plants and limiting the lives of existing plants so that the last would be switched off in 2022.

Keeping the pressure up

Even with an end to nuclear power finally in sight, the anti-nuclear movement still had plenty to protest about. Many activists, including in the Green Party (with leaders Jürgen Tritten and Claudia Roth pictured above in Berlin in 2009) wanted nuclear power phased out far faster. Meanwhile, the German movement continued to join international calls for a global end to nuclear power.

Stop that train

Then there was still the question of what to do with nuclear waste. By 1995, containers of radioactive material were coming back from reprocessing abroad for storage at Gorleben. Over the years, transport of these “castors” has regularly been met with mass protests, including clashes with police.

New lease of life for nuclear

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party had always opposed the law limiting the life of Germany’s nuclear power plants – so after the party came to power in 2009, it effectively scrapped it by prolonging the lives of power plants – a major setback for the anti-nuclear movement.

Fukushima changes everything

In 201,1 the meltdown of a Japanese nuclear reactor saw Merkel’s government make a rapid about-face. Within days of the Fukushima disaster, it passed a law to shut down the last of Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2022. The phase-out was back on, and eight reactors were shut down that same year.

The fight goes on

Since the grassroots action of the 70s, Germany’s anti-nuclear movement has seen the country commit to ditching nuclear altogether. It’s also helped push forward a shift to renewables, making Germany an international example in the fight against climate change. But the protests go on. This week, activists stopped the first boat carrying nuclear waste.

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