Diskussion:2020-01:Atommüll - Wer ist verantwortlich

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Atomic Waste - Whose Responsibility Is It?

While generating electricity atomic power plants also produce long-lasting radioactive wastes which constitute a safety issue for millions of years. However disputed the use of nuclear power might be, it is a fact that only today’s generations benefit from the energy generated in these facilities, while later generations will only be faced to the potential risks of this technology’s residues. To refuse public criticism on concrete final disposal proposals it is often argued that solving nuclear waste problems is our generation’s responsibility, and thus atomic industry proponents argue critics would also have to provide solutions if they oppose radioactive waste management technologies or repository siting. However, it is not the NGOs’ responsibility to provide solutions for nuclear waste disposal, but the atomic industry’s and politicians’ liability who took decisions to exploit atomic energy or reaped profits from it.

NGOs’ are not accountable to supply answers to the nuclear waste issue, because they didn’t cause the problem, but advocated against using nuclear power and stressed the challenge of disposal. In contrast, their societal function is to point out problems that politics need to address. Already in the early phase of the atomic age there had been warnings about the unsolved problem of the radioactive remains (Müller/Voges 2016: 58)⁠. According to researcher Christiane Frantz it is a function of NGOs to address topics and problems for which solutions have to be found (Frantz 2014: 240)⁠. Further they “are ascribed the task to transparentizing dysfunctional state agency or omission.[…] In this case NGOs initially are in opposition to state agents whom they criticize and remind reactions on regulation shortfalls” (Frantz/Zimmer 2002: 60)⁠.

In fact the atomic industry is accountable for the radioactive residues, because they received billions in subsidies from the state and reaped profits from generating electricity based on nuclear power. In Germany alone between 1970 and 2012 the nuclear industry received a total of 213.2 billion euros in subsidies (Küchler/Meyer 2012: 8, 14)⁠. It is difficult to access the actual figures about nuclear companies’ winnings, but based on a study related to the 2010 reactor lifetime extension in Germany it is possible to assess[1] the average annual after-tax profits at about 205 million euros per reactor (Matthes 2010: 20)⁠.

The utilization of atomic energy had been determined by governments, and plant operation licenses have been issued by administrations, thus the state is in charge of the nuclear waste management. The implementation of nuclear power in Germany was “like in the USA” not animated by economic market considerations, but “the result of political decisions aiming at the establishment of an institutionally favorable framework for the genesis of a nuclear energy industry” (Knollmann 2018: 98)⁠. Also the German atomic law 1985 determined in § 9a (3) the federal government responsible to provide repositories for safeguarding and for final disposal of radioactive waste (Bundesgesetzblatt 1985: 1570)⁠.

Politicians and industry have prepared the utilization of atomic power for electricity generation and exploited it to reap profits, thus they are in charge to solve the problems caused by this act; a liability is also fixed by law. NGOs on the other hand criticized atomic energy generation and warned about consequences, following their function in society, thus they are not accountable for solving the challenge of a millions of years safe final disposal. Moreover, NGOs don’t have comparable financial and personnel resources like nuclear companies or the state, so that they can’t be expected to perform the same efforts the profiteers of the atomic age are capable of.

Falk Beyer


  • Bundesgesetzblatt (1985): Gesetz über die friedliche Verwendung der Kernenergie und den Schutz gegen ihre Gefahren (Atomgesetz), Deutscher Bundestag.
  • Frantz, Christiane (2014): “Nichtregierungsorganisationen als Interessenvertreter und Politikvermittler in einer transnationalen Öffentlichkeit”, in Schmitt, Caroline and Vonderau, Asta: * Transnationalität und Öffentlichkeit. Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven, Transcript Verlag, 233–259.
  • Frantz, Christiane, and Zimmer, Annette (Hrsg.) (2002): Zivilgesellschaft international. Alte und neue NGOs, Opladen: Leske + Budrich.
  • Knollmann, David (2018): Gescheiterte Kernenergiepolitik, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG.
  • Küchler, Swantje, and Meyer, Bettina (2012): Was Strom wirklich kostet. Vergleich der staatlichen Förderungen und gesamtgesellschaftlichen Kosten konventioneller und erneuerbarer Energien, Berlin: Forum Ökologisch-Soziale Marktwirtschaft e.V.
  • Matthes, Felix Chr. (2010): Auswertungsaktualisierung des am 5. September 2010 ausgehandelten Modells für die Laufzeitverlängerung der deutschen Kernkraftwerke, Berlin: Öko-Institut e.V.
  • Müller, Michael, and Voges, Jürgen (2016): “Die Notwendigkeit, neu zu denken. Der Atommüll ist nicht nur eine technische Herausforderung”, in Brunnengräber, Achim (Hrsg.): Problemfalle Endlager, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, 55–76.


  1. Lifetime extension for German nuclear reactors as confirmed by the government in 2010 would have generated about 42 billion euros extra profits for the operators based on 2010 costs and taxes for an average operation time of 12 years for 17 reactors – about 205 millions of euros per year and reactor (after-tax profit).