Brokdorf nuclear power station, Germany

Several events marked the beginnings of the German anti-nuclear power movement: among them, the huge protests over the Brokdorf reactor, which began in 1976 and lasted until 1986, leading to violent confrontations with police.


As Alexander Glaser (2012) explains, several projects and events marked the beginnings of the German anti-nuclear power movement: among them are the huge protests over the Brokdorf reactor, which began in 1976 and led to "civil war-like" confrontations with police. Both main parties, CDU and SPD, stronly supported nuclear power. The Greens did not come to Parliamente with a few members until 1883. The early history of nuclear opposition in Germany was based on Bürgerinitiative, radical political groups, and scientists. Forty years later and after Fukushima in 2011, this long story  led to a final phase-out of nuclear power in Germany. The early enthusiasm for nuclear power started to wane by the 1970s. By 1980, the historian Joachim Radkau was led to title his account of nuclear power development in Germany "The Rise and Fall of the German Atomic Industry”. We follow here Glaser's (2012) explanation. The  planning for a light-water reactor at the Brokdorf site, 45 miles northwest of Hamburg, had been underway since the late 1960s, but became a public issue only in November 1973, at a time when several power reactors were already operating in Germany. The Brokdorf controversy had a lesser known prelude at another proposed reactor site near the town of Wyhl, where the peaceful occupation of the construction site by local community groups led to a construction stop and ultimately the cancellation of the project. After this success, the German federal government decided to set a precedent and avoid a second Wyhl at all costs. In October 1976, within hours of receiving the construction permit, police secured the Brokdorf site with barbed wire while construction workers were moving in equipment. That night, police forces clashed with opponents who were trying to occupy the site, just as in Wyhl three years earlier. Only this time, violence rapidly escalated, attracting significant national media attention. Four weeks later, more than 30,000 people gathered to demonstrate against the Brokdorf project. These protests led to a construction stop in October 1977, which was formally justified by the lack of a disposal strategy for spent fuel. Brokdorf had become a powerful symbol of the German anti-nuclear movement, and in February 1981, about 100,000 demonstrated against the project, confronting a police contingent of more than 10,000, at the time, the largest police operation in the history of West Germany. To summarize (with materials also from other sources) the largest onsite demonstrations were in November 1976, February 1977, January 1981 and June 1986.  In February 1977, 6,500 riot police and 2,000 border guard officers were mobilized from across West Germany. Altogether, over 1,000 vehicles, including water cannonsarmored cars and other, were used by the authorities in Brokdorf. Roadblocks were erected throughout Germany, and people entering through the Danish and Dutch border were questioned. onstruction stopped ffor four years. When construction was about to resume in February 1981, about 100,000 people demonstrated against the project, confronting a police contingent of over 10,000.  More confrontations and political wrangling followed, but the Brokdorf nuclear power reactor eventually started operation in October 1986, a few months after Chernobyl. Brokdorf marks a failure in the long trayectory (started at Wyhl, near Freiburg in the early 1970s) of the powerful anti-nuclear German movement. The strong demonstration waere of two kinds, militant one from autonomist and K-groups (left groups), and pacifist demonstration in nearby Izenhoe or in Kiel or Hamburg.  Many years later, still in 1993, it was reported by WISE that on Nov. 22, army vehicles with water cannons reappeared for the first time in many years in front of the Brokdorf nuclear plant near Hamburg, Germany. The occasion was a blockade of heavy trucks carrying spent fuel from the plant to Sellafield by 100 protesters calling themselves the Action Alliance Against the Brokdorf-Sellafield Shipments. "Saving the Children of Sellafield" was the slogan chosen for the demonstration in a spirit of solidarity with the final stage of struggle against the THORP startup in Britain. The spent fuel rods have a long way to go: first by truck to the village of Brunsbüttel, then by train to Dunkirk in France, then by ship to Dover and on to Sellafield. The whole transport will last four days. Over the next six years, six shipments of this kind will take place per year. 

Basic Data
NameBrokdorf nuclear power station, Germany
Province Schleswig-Holstein
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 DetailsBrokdorf Nuclear Power Plant is a PWR of 1440 MW of power, in the the municipality of Brokdorf in Steinburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It started in October 1986, a joint venture of PreussenElektra and Hamburgische Elektrizitäts-Werke (HEW). Nowadays, Vattenfall Europe Nuclear Energy GmbH owns 20% and E.ON 80%. It uses uranium dioxide fuel and also MOX fuel.

The cost with the delays was estimated at 3.5 billion DM, equivalent to about USD 2 billion.

The decommissioning of the plant is planned for 2021
Level of Investment (in USD)2,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population400,000
Start Date1976
Company Names or State EnterprisesPreussenElektra from Germany
Hamburgische Elektrizitäts-Werke (HEW) from Germany
Vattenfall Europe Nuclear Energy GmbH from Sweden
E.ON from Germany
Relevant government actorsGovernment of Schleswig-Holstein

Police forces, Federal Ministry of Interior

Administrative courts

Federal Constitutional Court, West Germany
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBürgerinitiative Umweltshutz Unterelbe (Lower Elbe Environmental Citizen Initiative)

Autonomous and political left-wing (K-groups)
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 MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
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
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
OtherRisk of radiation
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Displacement
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The strong opposition (perhaps the strongest opposition in Germany against a very large nuclear power station, owned by Vattenfall and E.On) finally failed, production of electricity started in 1986. One early court decision stopped work for four years, but upper courts allowed building the power station after 1981.
Sources and Materials

Roger Karapin, Protest Politics in Germany. Movements on the Left and Right Since the 1960s. Penn State U.P. 2007

Alexander Glaser, From Brokdorf to Fukushima: The long journey to nuclear phase-out. Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 1 Nov. 2012,
[click to view]

Media Links

Anti-nuclear demonstrations in Brokdorf
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Marsch auf Brokdorf 1981, and other films on attacks by police against demonstrators
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Other Documents

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Meta Information
Contributorjoan martinez alier
Last update04/08/2016