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Kalkar's sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor prototype, a bad joke (Germany)


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 shelss of a 1 billion, plutonium-based, fas breeder reactor were recently completed. The 300 megawatt prototype is being financed by the West German, Duthch 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 humour, 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 reac-tor’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. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Kalkar's sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor prototype, a bad joke (Germany)
State or province:North-Rhine Westfalia
Location of conflict:Kleve
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear power plants
Specific commodities:Electricity
Nuclear waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

As reported by WISE (News Communiqe 100): In 1981 police violence stopped construction of anti-nuclear village at Kalkar. People planned to build a summer anti-nuclear village near the construction site of the fast breeder reactor at Kalkar (Germany). Plans, however, had to be postponed because the police kept confiscating their building materials. Twelve protesters were injured by police attacks during those days. In total, 800 activists participated in the festival. Construction of the sodium-cooled fast breeder in Kalkar had begun in 1973 as a project of West Germany (72%), Netherlands and Belgium (both 14%). In 1977, 50,000 people had demonstrated against the fast breeder project.

Kalkar is near the Dutch border (Nijmegen), not far from Duisburg and Dusseldorf in Germany.

In 1995 the Dutch businessman Henny van der Most bought the US$5 billion ruins of Kalkar for about about US2.5 million (although the exact figure was never disclosed). Once reconstruction work was finished, people are to climb the cooling tower and to dive in the reactor core, and lots more fun!

As reported in the technical press, the status of the Kalkar nuclear power plant in early summer 1986 was that, apart from later alterations to the workshop building, the assembly and nonnuclear commissioning work has practically been completed. From a technical point of view, nuclear commissioning of the plant could begin, but vital factors for this were the necessary nuclear licenses. The final decision to scrap the Kalkar project was made in 1991 after construction had been finished five years earlier. It could never begin operation because the government of Northrhein-Westfalia refused the last license. Kalkar had been one of the main focal points of resistance against nuclear power in Germany during the 70s and 80s.

Project area:50
Level of Investment:4,000,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:1,000,000
Start of the conflict:1971
End of the conflict:1991
Company names or state enterprises: Interatom from Germany
Siemens from Germany
Relevant government actors:Government of West Germany (Willy Brandt, prime minister)
Government of Nord Rhein Wesphalen
Constitutional Court of West Germany
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Bürger initiative Kalkar-Hönnepel (from 1971)
Green militants
Weltbund zum Schutz des Lebens
Öko-Institut, Freiburg (founded after the anti-nuclear Wyhl struggle)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsPotential risk of nuclear accident
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Displacement, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Development of alternatives:The Kalkar breeder reactor was not built. The present amusement park at the site is a joke.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Grassroots opposition, political opposition, the Chernobyl accident (1986) and the very large cost overruns, all had an influence in giving up the ill-considered plans to build a breeder-reactor. Kalkar must be seen as one of the German early successful cases of opposition to nuclear energy, together with Wyhl (near Freiburg). .

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Kalkar Case I (1978) – 49 BVerfGE 89, translated by Donald P. Kommers

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Joachim Radkau, Eine kurze Geschichte der deutschen Antiatomkraftbewegung, APUZ, 46-47, 2011 (an account over 40 years of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany until its victory in 2011 after Fukushima, including one page on Kalkar).

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Alice Siegert, Europe building fast breeder reactor, The Chicago Tribune, 1 August 1977

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

WISE, Then and Now. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #499-500

In Le Monde, 9 Nov. 2011, an article describing the movement from Wyhl (success) to Brokdorf (defeat) and Kalkar (success), and Gorleben. The German anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s.

Other documents

Kalkar amusement park

Meta information

Contributor:joan martinez alier
Last update03/08/2016



Kalkar amusement park