Fukushima's German Repercussions

Alexander Liegl
March 3, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2014


Fig. 1: Demonstrators protesting against the atomic-waste storage site at Gorleben. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

The German anti-nuclear movements had its beginnings dating back to 1975, when a small group of protestors occupied the space dedicated to a government-approved nuclear power station in the small city of Wyhl. On February 18, 1975, a day after the government approval, television coverage showed police forcibly dragging away demonstrators. While this already spurned some nation-wide outrage, the refusal of the local police to help remove demonstrators helped increase the sense of righteousness the anti-nuclear demonstrators felt. [1] More polarizing was the dispute in February 1977 between the Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Ernst Albrecht, and the anti- nuclear opposition. After Albrecht announced the salt mines of Gorleben would be utilized to store radioactive waste, more demonstrations occurred, climaxing in a 20,000 people strong demonstration at Gorleben on March 12, 1977. [2] By 1979, Albrecht had to cave in to extensive protests and declared the plans for a nuclear waste plant in Gorleben impossible to enforce for political reasons. [3] The biggest anti-nuclear demonstration pre-Fukushima took place 1981 in protest of the construction of the Brokdorf Nuclear Power Plant in the North of Germany by Hamburg. 100,000 demonstrators faced 10,000 policemen, resulting in the injury of 21 policemen after being attacked with gasoline bombs, sticks, stones, and slingshots. [4]

Foreshadowing Fukushima: The Chernobyl Disaster

The 1986 Chernobyl Disaster first brought forward an emotional political reaction in Germany. Whereas, before, emotions were contained on the demonstrators side, now German politicians too feared the radioactive fallout clouds lingering over large parts of Germany. In order to counter possible damages, German officials destroyed contaminated crops, inspected vehicles entering Germany coming from Eastern Europe, and replaced individual segments of local infrastructure that might have been affected. [5] Immediately after the incident, German socialists, most prominently the Green Party and the Socialist Party of Germany (SPD), demanded the shut down or foreseeable closure of German nuclear power plants. It can be said the Chernobyl disaster came in handy for nuclear opponents to receive the attention they hoped for. [3] The polarizing reactions of prominent politicians entailed further demonstrations, most notably the clash in May 1986 at the nuclear-waste reprocessing plant in Wackersdorf. [6]

The Fukushima Disaster

On March 11, 2011 the Daiichi-Fukushima nuclear disaster was the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl, after which 50,000 households had to be displaced after radiation contaminated air, soil, and sea. [7] As the maintainer of the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), later admitted, it had failed to take stronger measures to prevent disasters for fear of inviting protests against the plant. A notable example is the 10-meter high seawall, which provided only little protection from the destructive 14-meter tsunami that struck the plant. [8]

Germany Reaction: Immediate Policy Reversal

Ironically, a planned anti-nuclear protest at the Neckarwestheim nuclear plant coincided with the explosion of Fukushima reactor block 1. Long planned beforehand, the protest turned into a 100,000 demonstrators strong protest forming a 45-kilometer human chain from Stuttgart to the nuclear plant site. [9] A nationwide opinion poll, just shortly after the protest, indicated that 80% of Germans opposed the government policies to extend nuclear power. Contrary to the former policy of elongating the use of older nuclear power plants, then, and still present, chancellor Angela Merkel announced the immediate closure of the seven nuclear power plants initiated before 1980. However, protestors were not satisfied, interpreting Merkel change of mind as a tactical move related to upcoming state elections. This resulted in the largest-ever anti-nuclear demonstration on March 26, 2011 featuring a total of 250,000 protestors in Germany largest cities, among them Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and Munich. [10] On May 30, 2011, Merkel completed the full reversal of her nuclear policy, announcing that all of Germany 17 nuclear power plants are to be shut down by 2022. [11]


In the quake of an epic nuclear disaster, German politicians had no other choice than cave in to the extensive protests following the Fukushima incident. While many interpreted Merkel moves as populist, she did what was demanded of her. As of now, eight German nuclear power plants have been shutdown, with more to come. Meanwhile, German politicians and researchers are exploring ventures to compensate for the lack of energy-sustainability brought about by the cease of nuclear power production. However, it does not seem hyperbolic to ascertain that also these decisions, whatever they may be, will face opposition and critique by the mobile German anti-nuclear movement.

© Alexander Liegl. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] W. C. Patterson, Nuclear Power (Penguin Books, 1983).

[2] "Gorleben: Eine Chronik der Ereignisse," NDR (North-German Radio), 31 Jan 13.

[3] L. Mez, M. Schneider, and S. Thomas, International Perspectives of Energy Policy and the Role of Nuclear Power (Multi-Science Publishing, 2009).

[4] J. Tagliabue, "West Germans Clash At Site Of A-Plant", New York Times, 1 Mar 81.

[5] H. Brooymans, France, Germany: A Tale of Two Nuclear Nations," The Edmonton Journal, 25 May 09.

[6] J. Greenwald, "Energy and Now, the Political Fallout," Time, 2 Jun 86.

[7] T. Yamazaki and S. Ozasa, "Fukushima Retiree Leads Anti-Nuclear Shareholders at Tepco Annual Meeting," Bloomberg, 26 Jun 11.

[8] M. Fackler, "Japan Power Company Admits Failings on Plant Precautions," New York Times, 12 Oct 12.

[9] T. McVeigh, "Nuclear Safety Worries Spread to Europe," The Guardian, 12 Mar 11.

[10] S. Brown, "Anti-Nuclear Germans Protest On Eve of State Vote," Reuters, 26 Mar 11.

[11] A. Breidthardt, "German Government Wants Nuclear Exit By 2022 At Latest," Reuters, 30 May 11.