Nuclear-Free Future

in the Category


is presented to



2004 Jaipur, India

Hildegard Breiner

By now, Hildegard Breiner is the grande dame of the antinuclear and ecological movements in Vorarlberg, the westernmost region of Austria. Her credentials go back more than a quarter of a century to the milestone 1978 referendum in which the Austrian people, by a narrow margin, banished nuclear power.


The government and the power companies had been touting the advantages of nuclear energy and had in fact begun construction on the country’s first nuclear power plant at Zwentendorf. A grassroots movement deflated the companies’ public relations campaign. Nowhere was it more successful than in Hildegard Breiner’s home state of Vorarlberg, where she and her late husband spearheaded the campaign. An unparalleled 85 percent of the voters there cast their votes against Zwentendorf, tipping the scales of the nationwide referendum. While names associated with the nuclear age usually spell disaster – Hiroshima, Bikini, Chernobyl, to mention just a few – the name “Zwentendorf” symbolizes hope and the power of ordinary people to assert their right to a nuclear-free existence.


In the second half of the 1980s, the Breiners played a major role in another successful fight – against the nuclear reprocessing plant to be built at Wackersdorf in neighbouring Bavaria, Germany. Drawing on the experience gained in the grassroots struggle against Zwentendorf and increasingly sophisticated in getting media attention, they mobilized in Vorarlberg and helped organize protest rallies at the construction site.


“Persistence is the power of the powerless.”


While still an outspoken antinuclear activist, in recent years Hildegard Breiner has been focussing on alternative energy sources: “We must demonstrate that we are not naysayers but trendsetters.” In 1996, she started the “Sunshine Campaign” with the goal of sensitising the people in her home state of Vorarlberg to solar energy photo voltaic systems. She persuaded the state government to support this drive by funding public relations campaigns and providing seed money for cooperative solar energy plants. The Sunshine Campaign was a huge success: only two years after the kick-off, 30 of the 96 communities in the state had built cooperative solar energy plants and by now there are 900 of them, with 80,000 square meters of solar panels generating 8.5 megawatt.


Austria, Germany and Switzerland all border on Lake Constance, the largest lake in Central Europe. Hildegard Breiner’s commitment knows no borders. As president of the Vorarlberg nature conservancy, she is a leading advocate for environmental protection in the entire lake region. Feared by some, heard and admired by many, the grande dame claims as her motto: “Persistence is the power of the powerless.” The Nuclear-Free Future Award is proud to honour her commitment by awarding her the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award.


–Wolfgang Heuss