In the late 60s the Austrian government decided to start a nuclear energy program. A planning company for nuclear power plants (NPP) was established.
The German Kraftwerks-uni-on (AEG and SIEMENS) began the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf on the Danube, about 20 miles upstream of the capital, Vienna, in 1972. It was built by a joint venture of several Austrian electric power utilities, and was envisioned as the first of several nuclear power plants to be built.
In 1976, the Austrian government launched a campaign aimed to inform citizens about a newly-launched nuclear energy program. In autumn 1977, big demonstrations in Zwentendorf and several Austrian cities took place. In December 1977 the opponents uncovered plans for secret fuel imports for the Zwentendorf reactor announcing acti-on to prevent the transport.
The governments campaign, to the regimes surprised, instead served to mobilize the press and residents against nuclear energy. This confrontation ended with a national referendum on the issue in 1978. Nearly two thirds of the voters (3.26 million people) went to the polls and of these 49.5% voted for, and 50.5% against, nuclear power. This democratic decision turned Austria from one of the last industrialized countries without nuclear power into the first industrialized country without nuclear power.
It was Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, at the pinnacle of his power, to advance the Zwentendorf plant, as well as the referendum over both the reactor and himself. As former Green Party chief Alexander van der Bellen comments, Kreisky made the mistake of indicating that he would resign if the vote went against the reactor. This motivated a rival party to mobilize against the plant, in the hope that they could unseat the chancellor.
Austria passed a law in 1978 prohibiting fission reactors for power generation and has opted for thermal power since then. As its national policy, Austria opposes nuclear energy in all its international dealings. However, it imports nuclear energy from neighboring countries.