Wyhl anti-nuke movement in Kaiserstuhl, Germany

Wyhl is where the German anti-nuclear movement cut its teeth in the early 1970s, based on Bürgerinitiativen and university researchers. The expression "Energiewende" (energy transition) so important in German energy policy was born in this struggle.

Whyl is a small wine growing locality in Emmendingen in Baden-Württemberg very near the Alsace border in France where the German anti-nuclear movement cut its teeth in the early 1970s.  There was the idea of turning South Baden, Alsace and the neighbouring region of Switzerland into an industrial area, with several nuclear plants. A second Ruhr, as was said at the time. After being chosen in 1971 as a  site for a nuclear power plant, the local opposition in Wyhl steadily mounted. Permission for the plant was granted and work began on 17 February 1975.  On the following day, local people spontaneously occupied the site and police removed them forcibly two days later. Television coverage of police dragging away common people through the mud helped to turn nuclear power into a major national issue. Wine-growers and clergy supported the movement together with members of the university  of Freiburg (where the Öko-Institut was to be founded later). On 23 February about 30,000 people re-occupied the Wyhl site and plans to remove them were abandoned by the state government in view of the large number involved and potential for more adverse publicity. On 21 March 1975, an administrative court withdrew the construction license for the plant. During the summer of 1975, the occupied site at Wyhl became a symbol. People from across Western Europe were drawn to the occupation; they came away awed by the “example of Wyhl” and determined to recreate it elsewhere. It was not long, however, before these visitors discovered the difficulty of simply exporting “Model Wyhl.” Years of alliance building and countless smaller actions had preceded the Wyhl occupation. The police, too, had learned from Wyhl and were better prepared to defend other construction sites. Thus, the attempted occupations near the northern German town of Brokdorf descended into pitched battles between protesters and police. Even so, concerns about nuclear energy became increasingly commonplace after Wyhl, drawing in an ever wider cross-section of the population. In this sense, the grassroots movement against reactors that took place along the Upper Rhine played a major part in making nuclear energy a hotly contested issue throughout Western Europe, and it marked the a signal early success for the German anti-nuclear movement. According to Stephen Milder (2013), many of the Wyhl occupiers were conservative farmers and vineyard owners. Cooperation between these rural people and scientists from nearby University of Freiburg connected local knowledge of the region with technical expertise. Most importantly, collaboration between French and Germans allowed for the creation of an imagined community of the “affected population” that spanned the Rhine and positioned itself as an alternative to the central governments in Bonn, Paris, and Stuttgart (the capital of Baden Württemberg). At the end Wyhl was not constructed, and neither was the nuclear plant Kaiseraust in Switzerland, but Fessenheim in Alsace was built. The European, international character of the protest was supported by activists such as Petra Kelly already in 1975 (then working at the EEC in Brussels). Thus, Jan-Henrik Mayer (2014) agrees that the site occupation at Wyhl in 1975 is rightly considered the symbolic birthplace of the West German anti-nuclear movement but it may also serve as the starting point for a transnational or at least European history of anti-nuclear protest. Local crossborder cooperation among protesters at Wyhl deeply impressed those antinuclear activists in the mid-1970s who considered nuclear power a global problem and encouraged them to take their protest to the international level. Internally, it is argued that the German Energiewende movement came out of the movement against nuclear power in the 1970s. The decision to build a nuclear power station in Wyhl turned out to be fateful, for it created a strong, sustained resistance movement across large parts of society. Students from nearby Freiburg joined forces with Kaiserstuhl winegrowers and scientists like Florentin Krause, one of the authors of Energiewende.
Basic Data
NameWyhl anti-nuke movement in Kaiserstuhl, Germany
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear power plants
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
A nuclear power station was to be built by Badenwerk AG, 1260 MW. It was never built.
See more...
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population180,000
Start Date1971
End Date1983
Company Names or State EnterprisesBadenwerk AG from Germany
Southern Atomic Plant from Germany
Relevant government actorsHans Filbinger (CDU), Minister-Präsident Baden-Württemberg (and a former Nazi judge in the Navy)

Rudolf Eberle, Economics Minister
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBaden-Alsace Bürgerinitiativen (up to 56 groups)

Weisweil, social-democratic major

Freiburg, University teachers and students
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Other Environmental impacts
OtherRisk of nuclear radiation
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The project was stopped by the occupation of the site and by demonstrations. There was a refusal of compensation.
Sources and Materials

Stephen Milder, “The New Watch on the Rhine: Anti-Nuclear Protest in Baden and Alsace.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia 2013, no. 6. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.
[click to view]

Meyer, Jan-Henrik: "Where do we go from Wyhl?" Transnational anti-nuclear protest targeting European and international organizations in the 1970s. In: Historical Social Research 39 (2014), 1, pp. 212-235
[click to view]

Roger Karapin, Protest Politics in Germany, Pennsylvania UP, 2007 (contains a comparison of Wyhl and Brokdorf)


Heinrich Böll Stiftung, The History of the Energie-Wende (energy transition)
[click to view]

A useful chronology on nuclear power in Germany until 2009 (before Fukushima and the final phase out) (see also Other Comments)
[click to view]

Media Links

Florentin Krause, Hartmut Bossel, Karl-Friedrich Müller-Reißmann , 1980, Energie-Wende. Wachstum und Wohlstand ohne Erdöl und Uran.
[click to view]

Other Documents

[click to view]

[click to view]

Other CommentsSpiegel's timeline of events associated with the anti-nuclear power movement in Germany until Fukushima 2011.

1975: Fight about a proposed new nuclear power plant for Whyl.

1976: Clashes between police and protesters at the Brokdorf construction site.

1977: Clashes between anti-nuclear activists and security forces at Brokdorf.

1977: 50,000 people protested against the construction of a fast-breeder reactor at Kalkar in the lower Rhine region.

1979: Following the Three Mile Island accident, 100,000 people demonstrated against plans for a reprocessing plant at Gorleben

1979: The anti-nuclear movement grows and 150,000 people demonstrated in Bonn, demanding the closure of all nuclear facilities.

1980: 5,000 people occupy the site of the proposed nuclear repository at Gorleben.

1981: Riots in Brokdorf between 10,000 police and 100,000 anti-nuclear protesters.

1984: 4,000 anti-nuclear protesters blocked all access roads to Gorleben for 12 hours.

1986: 100,000 people demonstrated in the Bavarian village of Wackersdorf against a planned reprocessing plant.

1986: After the Chernobyl disaster, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against nuclear power in various locations.

1995: From the mid-1990s onwards, anti-nuclear protests were primarily directed against transports of radioactive waste called "castor" containers.

1996: Sit-ins against the second castor consignment bringing nuclear waste from La Hague in France to Gorleben.

1997: The third castor transport reached Gorleben despite the efforts of several thousand protesters.

2004: A 21-year-old man was killed during protests against the castor transport after a train severed his leg.

2008: 15,000 people protested against the eleventh castor transport.

2009: Tens of thousands demonstrated in Berlin under the motto "Turn Them Off", and called for the decommissioning of all nuclear facilities worldwide.

2010: 120,000 people formed a 120-kilometre long human chain between the nuclear power plants at Krummel and Brunsbuttel, to protest against the federal government's nuclear policy.[24]

2011: Following the Fukushima I nuclear accidents in March, regular quiet demonstrations (Mahnwachen) are held on each Monday in hundreds of places in Germany attracting each time more than 100,000 people. On 26 March, 250,000 people protest against nuclear energy in four cities (Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich). On 31 May, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government announces a phase-out of Germany's nuclear industry by 2022.
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Contributorjoan martinez alier
Last update21/09/2016