Between 1957 and 1991, West Germany tried to build a fast breeder reactor, a 300 MW prototype near Kalkar, on the Rhine. It was known as the SNR-300, the Schneller Natriumgekühlter Reaktor, i.e. to be cooled by Sodium, and as dangerous as the one at the Superphenix at Creys-Malville in France that was also closed down after being built at great expense. Construction began in April 1973.
The spirit of the times is well captured in a chronicle by Alice Siegert (in The Chicago Tribune, 1 August 1977). Reporting from Kalkar she wrote: "People in this quaint, 750-year-old town in the Lower Rhine still walk on cobblestone pavement ... But north of the town limits, where black-and-white cattle graze in green pastures, the 21st Century has begun. On land bought from the Catholic Church, the concrete outer shells of a 1 billion, plutonium-based, fas breeder reactor were recently completed. The 300 megawatt prototype is being financed by the West German, Dutch and Belgian governments. Eventually, it will serve as a model for a 1200 megawatt commercial reactor... European governments believe that the third-generation, sodium-cooled fast breeders, which reproduce their own fuel, will... make Europeans less dependent on imported fuels".
There were at the time large anti-nuclear demonstration at Whyl and Brokdorf, and also at Kalkar. In September 1977 a demonstration led to a complete closure of autobahnen in northern Germany. Before the Greens were founded in Germany, militants were already active. Petra Kelly was a speaker at the first demonstration in 1975 against the reactor in Kalkar. Construction of the Kalkar reactor had advanced by 1985, but political opposition in the state and the aftermath of the Chernobyl's accident (in April 1986) caused the federal government to go back and announce in 1991 that the reactor would not be put into operation. It appears that the original costs finally escalated to US$4 billion. Nuclear materials were sold or sent off for free to France and the United States.
Showing a peculiar sense of humor, the nuclear plant has been turned into an amusement park, Wunderland Kalkar, one main attraction being climbing the cooling tower and coasting down from it.
The Kalkar case is also famous because on December 18, 1972, licensing authorities granted a first partial construction permit for the SNR-300 fast breeder nuclear power station and the owner of a farm within a mile of the station sued to have the reactor's license revoked. In view of the awesome implications for public safety and the rights of citizens involved in the production and recycling of plutonium, there was an appeal that went up to the Constitutional Court, that said that not specific norms of safety should be established by law, given the level of uncertainty regarding risks. After all, Kalkar was only a prototype.