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Environmentalists Protest the Building of a Nuclear Power Plant in Wyhl (1975)

Through media attention, a conflict over the building of a nuclear power station in the Badensian village of Wyhl became a national cause. The conflict pitted public officials, promoters of the energy industry, and their expert representatives against a civic protest group consisting of a curious mixture of local farmers and environmental activists.

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Wyhl is a village (circa 3,000 residents) north of Kaiserstuhl am Rhein within whose boundaries a nuclear power station is supposed to be built. At 4 x 1300 megawatts, the station would be the world’s largest to date.

On July 9 and 10, 1973, there was a public discussion in Wyhl’s assembly hall on the matter of the nuclear power plant. That meant that, for the last time, the regulatory authority (various state ministries) summoned everyone with something to say about the contentious issues, listened to the objections, asked the opposing side to offer a refutation, and then formed an opinion. The whole thing had the character of a tribunal, with the people from the ministries playing judge and objectively passing a sentence “in the name of the people.” The public, about 1,000 people from the local region, some of whom took two days off, witnessed an instructive play. This had less to do with the plot than with the roles, which gradually became clearer during the course of the hearing. The public drew its own conclusions about this play, and on the second day they broke up the hearing.

At this last big meeting, at which all the participants were present, a number of people saw for the first time, in rich detail, just who was representing whose interests.

1. On the stage, up above, at a long table, sat the government officials. In the middle, with the controls for all of the microphones in hand, was the emissary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Grawe. He oozed objectivity and matter-of-factness – as long as things did not get critical. Then [when it got serious], he condescendingly suggested to an agitated farmer that he ought to submit his notes in writing. Or he made it clear that he was only tolerating the chatter of the environmentalists for the sake of good form. Or he simply turned off the microphones in the hall. He indignantly rejected a motion that claimed that his ministry was biased. He did this although everyone knows that both his boss, Economics Minister Eberle, and Minister President Filbinger sit on the board of directors of Badenwerk – in other words, on the governing board of the organization that had submitted the application to build the power station. He did this although the government had already declared, much earlier, that Wyhl had to be built in order to put an end to the disruptions caused by environmentalists. Although, in other words, the sentence in this show trial had been fixed long ago, because the judges and the applicants were identical.

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