Nuclear-Free Future

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24 September 2005

Mathilde Halle

The long roster of victories against all things nuclear is an extended series of negative coups. Yes, there are some 461 nuclear reactors at work in the world, but if the nuclear industry had no opposition we could almost certainly place a 1 before this number, if not a 2. To see the world as it really exists, one must close one’s eyes and imaginatively render a map containing, worldwide, some 1461 to 2461 nuclear reactors, all but 461 of them – thanks to those struggling to keep the uranium in the earth – unbuilt, phantom.

Mathilde Halla was a schoolteacher for mentally challenged children when she joined a small activist organization in Austria called Burgerinitiative gegen Atomgefahr (‘Citizens Against Atomic Danger’). The year was 1973, and the German company, KWU (AEG and Siemens) had begun construction of the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant. Little was Mathilde aware that her small but courageous step would alter the course of her life – that for the next three decades and more she would coordinate anti-nuclear demonstrations, blockades, and boycotts, edit, write or translate sundry newsletters, articles and brochures, publish the book, Worst Case Scenario Chernobyl, and distribute petitions and background infos to schools and churches throughout Austria, Bavaria, and the Czech Republic.

“Zwentendorf, the first public monument built on a one-to-one scale to honor an obsolete energy source: nuclear power.”

April, 1978: anti-Zwentendorf demonstrations forced Chancellor Bruno Kreisky to announce a referendum on the nuclear power issue for 5 November. Against all expectations, and although the state-owned utilities poured millions of tax-payers’ money into Kreisky’s pro-nuclear campaign, when the votes were counted 49.5 percent were for, and 50.5 percent against nuclear power. Zwentendorf was mothballed, transformed into “the first public monument built on a one-to-one scale to honor an obsolete energy source: nuclear power” (Bernd Lötsch). Nearly a decade later a second such de facto monument was erected across the German border in nearby Wackersdorf, when anti-nuclear opposition forced the closing of Franz-Josef Strauß’s fuel reprocessing plant. As chairperson of the OÖ Überparteiliche Plattform gegen Atomgefahr (‘Upper Austrian Platform against Nuclear Danger’), Mathilda’s commitment was again instrumental.

Once Chernoybyl demonstrated the devastating transboundary effects of radioactive fallout, Mathilde’s organization turned its attention towards stopping construction of the Czech nuclear power plant at Temelin. Located just 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the Austrian border, the plant is a unique hybred of old Soviet nuclear technology and new Westinghouse safety sprinklers. Since beginning test operations in 2000, an embarrassing series of more than 80 (reported) accidents, many forcing emergency shutdowns, have threatened millions of Czech, Austrian and German lives. Mathilde is confident that if we create enough political pressure, the Czech government will be forced to add Temelin to the growing list of anti-nuclear monuments.

Where would we be without Mathilde Halla? Close your eyes. You see those five new nuclear power plants? Sometimes the best things in life are not only free, but not even there.

Thank you, Mathilde Halla.

–Craig Reishus