Atomic Policy in Germany

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Anti-nuclear Struggle in Germany

Despite of the internationally known German "nuclear phase-out", it was one of the European countries with the biggest number of atomic plants in operation. As of spring 2019, still seven commercial nuclear reactors are in operation, and it is likely that the goal to close them by 2022 will only be realized with a strong anti-nuclear movement forcing the government and industry to fulfill the promises they made in law.

The official state policy is the phase-out of atomic power. However, the nuclear industry is insisting, campaigning and pushing forwards to annihilate the decisions made in 2011 in response to the disaster in Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people had protested nuclear power in Germany at that point of time forcing the government to close eight of Germany's oldest reactors to pacify the public. In 2011, a politically remarkable occurrence was the change in the conservative Christian Party's main point of view on nuclear power not to promote it officially any more, but to publicly admit it to be too dangerous and to end the atomic age. Sure, this was a reaction to the public's opinion and not motivated by themselves. However, this is a stance they can't easily move back from again. These days, phasing out nuclear power seems to be a political consensus in Germany. No relevant political party dares any more to ask for new nuclear reactors here, and also the development of other atomic plants is less likely than elsewhere. Still some factories like the uranium enrichment facility in Gronau (federal state of Nordrhein-Westfalen) are not target of the official phase-out policy and even receive permissions to extent their operation times and capacities.

Anti-nuclear campaigns in Germany focus on ensuring the decided atomic phase-out to become reality, to close also the other nuclear industry's facilities and to prevent German companies and state to continue the nuclear business in other countries. At the same time struggles concern the support of the development of renewable energy supplies. The conservative government aims to influence the pro-renewable support systems established on federal level since the 1990ies to be profitable for the big energy companies by reducing the size of subsidies per kWh, financing the renewal of the electricity grid and by particularly supporting big projects of renewable energy facilities affordable only by powerful companies.

An additional big issue for activists and public here is the unsolved and unsolvable problem of nuclear waste. Since the middle of the 1960ies German institutions were making experiences with the "final disposal" of the radioactive material. It started in Eastern Germany in the Morsleben salt mine at the end of the 1960ies/beginning of the 1970ies, while in Western Germany the Asse II salt mine was used for dumping nuclear waste even a bit earlier. In both cases public was not involved to the site decision as well as politic considerations had a major impact more than ecological or safety requirements. These days, Morsleben and Asse II are evidence for a failed final disposal concept followed in Germany. Both repositories are faced to cave-ins and intrusion of water. The operator, the state of Germany, already admitted these repositories to be unsuitable and too dangerous for operation as a final disposal site. However, tens of thousands of cubic meters of atomic waste have been dumped there already. Though it is considered to fetch the radioactive material and get it out of these dangerous mines, it is a technically and from a radiation safety point of view challenging attempt. Strong pressure of local initiatives and the public have caused the authorities and politicians to change their stances during the last decade to be more open for public discussions and even for considering removing the nuclear waste from these mines.

Besides these officially failed final repository projects, the Schacht Konrad iron ore mine received permission for the final disposal of nuclear waste, while the Gorleben mine is formally only categorized as a research facility under mining law and at the same time used as the official final disposal proof required by the nuclear law. However, in both mines no atomic waste has been stored so far. Gorleben is the most disputed atomic site since decades in Germany causing demonstrations of tens of thousands of people blockading for instance shipments of high level nuclear waste to the temporary repository on site. Dozens of temporary repositories for atomic waste are situated on site of other nuclear facilities (NPPs, Gronau etc.) or operate as central storage sites (Ahaus, Lubmin).

Until 2005 most of the high level nuclear waste produced in German nuclear power stations was shipped to so-called "reprocessing units" in France and UK, where plutonium is separated, the volume of waste is multiplied and high amounts of radioactive substances released to the environment. This type of "disposal" of waste was not allowed by the nuclear law any more after 2005. Since that time the "direct final disposal" was required. However, still return transports of atomic waste take place from abroad to Germany. Only 2 % of the volume of radioactive waste in Germany was produced in medicine, research and other industries. Almost all nuclear waste is caused by the commercial nuclear power stations.

The German anti-nuclear movement is composed by hundreds of grassroots groups, individuals and some NGOs. It is a decentralized movement without formal structures and representatives. Particularly big environmental NGOs often attempt to speak in the name of the movement which is widely not accepted. The most successful strategies and campaigns gathering many activists and starting up powerful actions were not implemented by central NGOs, but by independent initiatives and groups. An important media of the movement is the monthly magazine "anti atom aktuell". Every half a year a gathering of activists (spring and autumn conference) is supposed to take place for exchanging information, starting campaigns and discussing strategies. Parties like the Greens or left parties partly join the movement, but have no leading roles.