As international awareness for issues of nuclear safety was growing in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island (TMI) accident (Bösch, 2017; Zaretsky, 2018), the renowned science journal Nature drew attention to the phenomenon of “Border Problems” caused by the ongoing expansion of nuclear power. In its December 1980 issue, Nature reported that a substantial number of nuclear installations in Europe were located near national borders. “Of the 120 or so nuclear power stations at present in operation, under construction or planned in the European Community, 33 are less than 25 miles from national borders and another 15 are less than 6 miles from borders” (Becker, 1980).

The potential cross-border implications of nuclear installations were of course not new to citizens and anti-nuclear activists in the European -border regions affected. The most prominent example of such transboundary issues is probably the upper-Rhine valley, where Swiss, French, and West German utilities competed for the Rhine’s cooling water and engaged in ambitious building programmes. The construction of the nuclear power plant at Fessenheim on the western banks of the Rhine – today the oldest operating nuclear plant in France – started in 1971. As recent research has emphasised, this triggered not only protest within France, but also induced transnational cooperation and learning among the nascent anti-nuclear movements. This led to the successive occupations of the building sites at Wyhl, Germany, and Kaiseraugst, Switzerland, involving activists from all three countries in 1975 (Milder, 2017; Tompkins, 2016a; Tauer, 2012b).

Cross-border protest against nuclear sites at national borders in Europe was not limited to the upper-Rhine valley. From 1976 onwards, for instance, Danish anti-nuclear activists joined their Swedish counterparts in annual marches against the Swedish nuclear power plant Barsebäck facing Copenhagen from the other side of the Öresund, the narrow straits separating Denmark and Sweden, as one of the -contributions to this special issue discusses in greater detail (Kaijser and Meyer, 2018). Protests continued until the closure of the plant in the 2000s. Many of these cross-border conflicts have a long history and still make the news until the present. Cases in point are the struggle between Austria and the Czech Republic about the Temelín plant (Cisar, 2008), or the controversies about the French Cattenom and the aging Belgian Tihange power plants between France and Belgium on the one hand, and the neighbouring German federal states and Luxembourg on the other (dpa, 2018; Oberlé, 2016).

Curiously enough, the phenomenon of nuclear installations at the border has so far largely escaped scholarly attention. The few existing case studies focus on the consequences of the border for transnational, cross-border protest (Oberlé, 2016; Müller, 2013; Cisar, 2008). Moreover, there is some legal scholarship (Pelzer, 1987; Kloepfer and Kohler, 1981; Hummer, 2008), but most of this is fairly dated. Sandra Tauer’s (2012b) study of Franco-German relations in energy policy between 1970 and 1990 provides a very insightful account of the border-crossing conflicts about the Fast Breeder Superphénix – to which also one contribution to this special issue is devoted (Le Renard, 2018), and nuclear power plants in the Rhine and Moselle valleys. However, Tauer’s primary focus is on international relations between state actors, at different levels of government, and based on national and regional state archives. She is not systematically interrogating the issue of the border.

This special issue seeks to address this lacuna, namely the relevance, implications and consequences of national borders for the politics of nuclear facilities. The goal is to examine in a comparative perspective the reasons why policy makers and utilities chose a border location, and what the – intended and unintended, short- and long-term – consequences were of the decision to select a site at the national border. We are considering the consequences for the different kinds of actors involved and what the border situation meant for their relations.

We seek to move beyond the exclusive focus on protest which characterises most of the literature to date. Thus we take a broader view including the different economic, political and societal actors who were involved in promoting, supporting, defending or challenging nuclear installations at the border. These actors engaged in cooperative and conflicting relations, within their own country and across national borders. Sometimes a decision was taken to give up the site or to close down the facility – and we will ask what role the border played in these decisions. In other cases the conflict is still ongoing.

To allow for a broad comparison of the experience of nuclear -installations at the border in Europe, the special issue assembles four articles. We are using the term “nuclear installations”, because the special issue is not limited to nuclear power plants. In fact, the articles present case studies of different types of nuclear installations at the border, covering the entire fuel cycle – from uranium mines to nuclear power plants (NPPs), breeder reactors and final waste disposal sites. This will allow to explore differences between the different kinds of nuclear installations – e.g. between power plants and uranium mines. The cases are primarily drawn from different parts of Europe West of the Iron Curtain, from Sweden and Denmark in the North (Kaijser and Meyer, 2018), via Germany – West and East – (Kirchhof, 2018), and France and Switzerland (Le Renard, 2018), to Portugal and Spain in the South (Rubio-Varas et al., 2018), with very different political cultures, experiences of dictatorship and democracy and economic situations, including the availability of energy resources. The cases cover different kinds of borders: the border between neighbours with traditionally good, friendly relations, such as Denmark and Sweden, but also the intra-German border. The Cold War border divided a national and linguistic community, and constituted a heavily fortified border line between two opposing political and economic systems (Eckert, 2011: 9f.; Eckert, forthcoming 2019). Moreover, the cases explore the development of border relations over time and frequently demonstrate historical change. We will try to explain such change, exploring different reasons: for instance, what were the consequences if one side of the border abandoned nuclear ambitions (such as Portugal or Denmark), and thus started viewing nuclear power across the border in a different light.

The purpose of this introduction is threefold: First, it will provide some context on the transnational development of nuclear energy, focusing on the relevance of borders, and a brief introduction into the state of the art. Secondly, it will introduce the concepts and questions guiding the analysis. Thirdly, it will present the cases and findings in a comparative perspective, before drawing conclusions and suggesting some avenues for further research.1

Since the dawning days of the nuclear age, nuclear science and technological application has been a transnational phenomenon. Not only did scientists, their research findings and accumulated body of knowledge travel across borders, but so did the raw materials, notably the uranium they used. When nuclear weapons were first applied, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, these bombs had been constructed in a research effort involving scientists and engineers from numerous countries. The bombs themselves were finally carried across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and national borders, from the United States to Japan. When the Soviet Union built up its nuclear weapons programme in the late 1940s, this also involved a huge transnational transfer of information – not least via espionage – from the United States to the Soviet Union (Brown, 2013).

However, it was the ensuing arms race of the 1950s and 1960s, during which the superpowers tested ever-larger nuclear bombs in the atmosphere that made a wider public aware of the borderless nature of radioactivity. Even if tests were conducted in remote places (Merlin and Gonzalez, 2010), radioactive isotopes, so-called “fall-out” from the weapons testing could be traced across the globe, entering the food chain (Rothschild, 2013; Laucht, 2016). Scientists and critics of nuclear arms raised attention to these consequences in the fall-out debate. They highlighted that nuclear weapons testing – while deemed indispensable for security reasons – came at a high price in terms of human health and food safety. Central to the debate was the presence of radioactive isotopes in the milk that children were drinking (Hamblin, 2013; Commoner, 1958). These campaigns in turn induced the superpowers to ban atmospheric testing in 1963 (Mastny, 2008; Zaretsky, 2018: 28-43).

After U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s international Atoms for Peace Campaign -beginning in 1953 (Krige, 2006; Mateos and Suárez-Díaz, 2016), the peaceful uses of the new technology received much attention and aroused great expectations around the world. The American Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) provided foreign aid and American companies started selling small research reactors abroad, twenty-three of them already by the end of 1957 (Zaretsky, 2018: 21). Many countries in Europe started ambitious nuclear research programmes of their own. In the spirit of “technological nationalism” (Nielsen and Knudsen, 2010), -involving substantial government support, scientists sought to develop their own national nuclear reactors to harness the power of the atom to produce elec-tricity, ideally based on uranium mined domestically or in the country’s colonies (Nielsen and Knudsen, 2013). Occasionally military ambitions played a role as well, in France and the UK, which became Western Europe’s only nuclear powers, and initially also in Sweden (Kaijser, 1992; Jonter, 2016).

Some of the new nuclear research centres were located near the sea, and thus, near a national border, such as the Danish research centre at Risø. Similarly, the British nuclear research and weapons facility at Windscale, today Sellafield, was located by the Irish Sea. When a fire in 1957 led to a substantial release of radioactivity, this was distributed across Europe via the air, and importantly also via the sea. However, due to official secrecy, neither the siting decision, nor the accident itself spurred cross-border critique. At the time, when dumping nuclear waste at sea was still widely practiced (Hamblin, 2008), and when most countries pursued national nuclear ambitions of their own, public awareness for the consequences of such contamination was low (Arnold, 2007; Butler and Bud, 2018: 35-38).

Developing new uses of the atom was not solely an issue of (peaceful) competition among nations (Krige and Wang, 2015), but also seemed an ambition suitable for fostering international cooperation and European integration (Krige, 2008). As part of Atoms for Peace, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was founded as the international organisation in charge of spreading knowledge and encouraging international cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear power, and located in neutral Austria’s capital Vienna, on the border between East and West (Roehrlich, 2016). When the six founding members of the 1952 European Coal and Steel Community sought to re-launch European integration in 1957, they created not only the European Economic Community (EEC), the so-called Common Market, but also Euratom, the European Atomic Energy Community. Euratom’s member states promised to unite their research efforts in the European Joint Research Centre. At Ispra, Italy, researchers from all over Europe cooperated to develop a European nuclear power reactor. This project failed, partly because member states continued to pursue competing national research projects, leading to the awkward situation that there was little demand for this European reactor (Bähr, 1970; Allgeier, 2016). Euratom also co-funded other nuclear research projects, as the contribution on the Superphénix in this special issue discusses in greater detail (Le Renard, 2018). At the same time, many of the national research programmes intended to build and commercialise their own national reactors failed, too, such as in Denmark or West Germany (Nielsen et al., 1999; Radkau, 1983; Tauer, 2012b). Hence, at the end of the 1960s, when nuclear power entered the market for commercial use in Western Europe, most utilities relied on light water reactors developed in the United States. They were however frequently modified and built by domestic industry. There was a parallel development of international cooperation on peaceful nuclear research and development within the Eastern bloc, within the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), which established a permanent nuclear committee called ATOMENERGO. However, core competences, such as the development of nuclear power plants, remained in the hands of the Soviet Union (Josephson, 2009: 106-111; Schmidt, 2011).

Given the geographical distribution of uranium ore, and the need to enrich it (in exceedingly expensive enrichment plants (Tauer, 2012b: 35-72)) for use in light-water reactors, the provision of fuel for nuclear power plants was a transnational activity. In the EC, the provision, management of fuel was the prerogative of Euratom, including controls against proliferation (Mallard, 2009; Mallard, 2014: 451). From the 1970s, the IAEA and Euratom promoted the closing of the fuel-cycle, by building fast breeder reactors and re-processing spent fuel (e.g. Franklin and Hill, 1977; Donogue et al., 1977; Bureau, 1980). Only the final storage of nuclear waste was considered a national obligation, and continues to be so until today. However, already in the Euratom Treaty of 1957, member states included in article 37 a requirement of cross-border consultation concerning nuclear waste storage sites. This requirement did not extend to any other kinds of nuclear installations, even if from 1976 onwards the European Commission undertook attempts to expand this obligation to other kinds of nuclear installations, such as power plants. This was however blocked notably by the French government, in 1976 and again after Three Mile Island, when the Commission started a second attempt (Rengeling, 1986: 45-47; Commission, 1979; Beelitz, 1981).

The emergence of nuclear power is thus to a high degree characterised by border crossings and transnational flows. International cooperation in science, technology, business and politics, played an important role. Such international cooperation was often represented by its promoters as an enterprise conducted in the spirit of European integration, Nordic cooperation or socialist cooperation in postwar Europe. However, such attributions of meaning were deeply ambivalent, as at the same time, nuclear technology was also presented and perceived in terms of technological nationalism, ideals of energy independence and nationally conceived energy policies and networks (Krige and Wang, 2015). It is in this context that the specific conditions of the border location played out, which are at the heart of our analysis.

So far, most of the literature on nuclear installations near the border focuses on protest and anti-nuclear movements. Most of these analyses use border cases to draw conclusions on the opportunities and limitations of transnational cooperation of environmental or anti-nuclear movements more generally, or the existence of veritable transnational societal movements (Kirchhof and Meyer, 2014; Tompkins, 2016b; Meyer, 2014b). Indeed, the massive societal conflict about nuclear power in many European countries in the 1970s and 1980s was shaped by transnational connections and cooperation between anti-nuclear movements. When citizens started protesting against the expansion of nuclear energy from the early 1970s onwards, this did not go unnoticed. Media and policy makers reported and discussed about this new type of protest in the wake of 1968. Contemporary social scientists and historians started observing and analysing not only the technological, economic and political developments around the planned expansion of nuclear power, but also the societal conflicts and the “new social movements” (Offe, 1985) involved. Most of these contemporary studies remained limited to a national perspective (Rucht, 1980; Radkau, 1983), even if a number of very instructive comparative studies exist (e.g. Mez, 1979a; Mez, 1979b; Nelkin and Pollak, 1981; Flam, 1994; Rucht, 1994; Rucht, 1995; Rucht, 2002; Jahn, 2000). This focus on national and regional experiences initially also prevailed as historians started historicising the 1970s protest against nuclear power (Engels, 2006; Hasenöhrl, 2011; Kupper, 2003).

Many of these earlier accounts actually mention cross-border cooperation (e.g. Rucht, 1980: 83, 85). However, only in recent years have researchers started exploring transnational connections more systematically. Since the turn of the millennium, social scientists have examined transnational social and environmental protest in a perspective of global movements (Rucht, 1999; Kekk and Sikkink, 1998; for a critical view: Uekötter, 2017). In their books on anti-nuclear protest in the upper-Rhine valley social historians Andrew Tompkins (2016a) and Stephen Milder (2017) studied transnational connections between France and Germany. They argue that such linkages accelerated the emergence of an effective transnational anti-nuclear movement in the region. Distance from the centres of decision-making (Paris, Stuttgart) and a specific border-crossing regional identity strengthened the cohesion of the movement. The importance of language skills – in this case the shared Alemannic dialect spoken in both the Alsace and Baden – was crucial. Transnational transfers of knowledge and protest practices, such as the occupation of building sites, influenced and strengthened the anti-nuclear movement in both countries. By contrast, on the Franco-German border on the Moselle, around the Cattenom nuclear power plant, where neither cross-border identities, nor language skills were as strong as on the upper Rhine, transnational cooperation among protesters was much weaker (Oberlé, 2016).

Both Tompkins and Milder also point to the limitations and difficulties of transnational cooperation, and the opportunities of authorities to thwart transnational solidarity, by blaming foreigners, making use of traditional nationalist resentment. Traditional stereotypes, such as the perception among French engineers and policy makers of the Germans (and the Alsacians) as particularly nature-loving and somewhat irrational, played a role in cross-border relations (Tauer, 2012a). Birgit Müller’s (2013) study on the Austrian-Czech cross-border anti-nuclear mobilisation against the Czech Temelín plant in the 1990s similarly highlights divisive aspects undermining the effectiveness of transnational cooperation. Unwittingly, Austrian anti-nuclear groups eroded the credibility of their Czech partners. Not only did Austrian NGOs contribute massively to the financing of their Czech counterparts, which invited criticism that the Czech movement was pursuing foreign interests. What proved even more detrimental to the credibility of the Czech activists was that the Austrians exported the whole range of protest practices and messages that had worked in Austria. However, this package was not adapted to the Czech debate and did not resonate with Czech audiences. Czech utilities could thus easily dismiss them as uncalled-for interventions from abroad.

Studying the role of state actors in cross-border conflicts on nuclear power, Tauer’s (2012b) account offers some insights into the role not only of national governments, but also of subnational and regional authorities. As has been highlighted for cases of cross-border environmental conflicts in North America (Taylor, 2008: 465), nation states and their constitutions mattered: the German federal states (Länder) were much more deeply engaged in such conflicts not only than the departmental authorities in centralised France, but also than the West German government in Bonn, with its commitment to cordial Franco-German relations. Clearly, nuclear projects on the other side of the border impacted more directly on federal states’ own nuclear development plans. Furthermore, Länder and local governments were much more susceptible to political pressure from their own citizens, and thus undertook at times somewhat “undiplomatic” initiatives, pressing the national government to demand information from France, or taking court action against French nuclear facilities (Tauer, 2012b: 250, 268, 274).

The issue of borders is central to this special issue, and speaks to two recent trends in historiography. The so-called “spatial turn” (Torre, 2008; Middell and Naumann, 2010) led to growing interest among historians in issues of space and scale (Struck et al., 2011; Dietze and Naumann, 2018; Alcalde, 2018; Müller and Torp, 2009). Transnational history has encouraged researchers to challenge the tacit assumptions of methodological nationalism (Beck, 1997) and instead, to trace movements and flows across nation states and societies (Kaelble, 2017; Meyer, 2014a; Iriye and Saunier, 2009; Van der Vleuten, 2008). Both literatures converge in their interest in borders, their structuring effects as well as their historical emergence and development over time (Di Fiore, 2017; Komlosy, 2018). We will in turn draw on both literatures, as well as some insights from border studies (Paasi, 2015; Wilson and Donnan, 2012), with a view to defining concepts and research questions.

Transnational history has alerted us to the socially constructed nature of geographical spaces. Writing transnational history, researchers study both the practical side of social construction “through economic, social, cultural, or political movements and interactions” and the construction of meaning of such spaces “in relation to perceptions, interests and in a given temporal context” (Müller and Torp, 2009: 613). Consequently, spaces are not given, predefined units of analysis, but need to be reconstructed via research. Such research seeks to establish different contemporary actors’ spaces and scales of interaction and perceptions regarding these spaces (Alcalde, 2018: 558; Dietze and Naumann, 2018). A case in point is “internationalism”, an idea or ideological commitment that many social movement actors shared and invoked (Park, 2009; Bösch, 2018; Weitbrecht, 2012: 27-44). In order to rhetorically overcome borders and national divisions, protesters frequently invoked an imagined “international” community of solidarity of those “affected” by nuclear technology, previous research on transnational anti-nuclear movements has highlighted (Kirchhof, 2014; Kirchhof and Meyer, 2014; Meyer, 2014b).

These insights inform our analysis in two ways. First, they alert us to the fact that the spatial notion of the “border” meant different things to different contemporary actors at different points in time. For instance, perceptions whether a nuclear installation was “near” the border varied considerably across time and space. Secondly, when tracing transnational relations in the context of nuclear installations near borders, we can expect that the issue will be discussed at different geographical scales and political levels, from the local to the national level, and to the level of international organizations. We can thus distinguish these different levels in our analysis.

The rise of transnational history also contributed to a growing confusion about concepts regarding problems and relations beyond the nation state, for which “transnational” has become a convenient but increasingly fuzzy shorthand (Taylor, 2008). Following widely accepted definitions, in this special issue we will distinguish between “international”, “transnational” and “transboundary” (which we use interchangeably with “cross-border”). In line with common usage in political science, international relations refer to relations between state actors and international organisations, notably intergovernmental relations. By contrast, transnational relations involve non-state actors. Transnational interaction famously refers to “the movement of tangible or intangible items, across state boundaries when at least one actor is not an agent of a government, or an intergovernmental organization” (Nye and Keohane, 1971: 332). As the contributions to this special issue demonstrate, in a postwar world of state-owned utilities, state-funded research centres and nuclear-industrial projects, the analytical distinction between international and transnational relations is often blurred in practice, and our usage aims at emphasising which aspect is most relevant in the respective context.

However, the focus of this special issue is the examination of nuclear installations as “transboundary” (or “cross-border”) issues. Transboundary issues relate to a problem which is due to a shared border between two (or more) neighbouring countries. In the case of transboundary environmental problems, they result from external, cross-border effects of risks or pollution, which are at geographical proximity (Taylor, 2008: 462). Transboundary issues are thus distinct from broader transnational issues, such as fallout from nuclear weapons testing or long range air pollution, which do not necessarily require a common border. In fact, transboundary issues can be considered a subset of transnational issues, in which the presence of the border and the regional impact constitute a predominant part of the problem definition. Transboundary issues trigger a variety of cross-border relations between different kinds of actors, at different geographical and political scales. Such relations are equally at the heart of our analysis. Transboundary relations may range between conflictual and cooperative relations, or many shades of grey in between.

However, such a definition leaves us to define what borders are. Broadly defined, borders separate distinct spaces from each other, on maps, in minds, and sometimes in physical territorial spaces – as evidenced by the Iron Curtain. While there are administrative and state borders within states, this special issue only considers international borders. International borders are conventionally understood to be dividing lines between sovereign states, political systems, national societies, often conceived as cultural and linguistic communities, and national economies, including national infrastructures and energy systems.

It is important to acknowledge that borders are indeed institutions that do separate the political and legal spaces of sovereign states (Cyrus, 2017; Taylor, 2008). This is highly relevant for the issue of environmental issues with border crossing impacts, such as nuclear power. Indeed, this divide severely limits the political influence of those who live on the other side of the border, who might be affected by nuclear risks – without formally having a say on the decision making. Citizens on the other side of the borders are not relevant as voters, hence they can safely be ignored by elected politicians. Furthermore, and this relates to issues of environmental justice, they may have to bear a substantial share of the risks, while usually not benefitting economically from employment or tax incomes (Rucht, 2002: 91). When trying to express their concern or opposition, citizens on the other side of the border were not able to address the decision makers directly, for instance, by voting. Instead they tried to convince their own national government to protest diplomatically on their behalf. Frequently, they also cooperated with peers on the other side of the border.

Viewed from the traditional perspective of tacit methodological nationalism, and the postwar ideal of the sovereign nation state, a border is a dividing line that neatly separates national spaces, in which all these political, societal, cultural and economic units are perfectly overlapping. However, conceptualising borders as straight lines between separate national units is overly simplistic and inadequate (Wilson and Donnan, 2012; Houtum, 2015; Paasi, 2015). Border studies scholars have highlighted in recent years that often these spaces are not entirely coinciding. For example, linguistic minorities might live on both sides of the border, and economic ties across the border might in some regions be more important that the ties with the “national” economy. Indeed, more often than not borders are not straight lines but spaces of transition (Scott, 2012; Bacas and Kavanagh, 2013). Clearly, borders are permeable, and constantly being crossed, e.g. by often invisible infrastructures, such as transport, communication and energy networks (Högselius et al., 2016; Van der Vleuten and Kaijser, 2006) People are crossing borders for work, leisure or education, or indeed, when seeking refuge from war or political persecution.

Border regions, with their cultural connections and transborder identities, thus deserve researchers’ attention. In such regions actors engage in practices of “bordering”, i.e. re-affirming or overcoming the border in discourse, perceptions, representations and everyday practice (Scott, 2012: 86-89). Anti-nuclear protest on the upper Rhine is a case in point, where French authorities tried to intercept protesters travelling across the Rhine at the border, while the protesters invoked a borderless “Dreyeckland” (Milder, 2017).

Similarly, Erik van der Vleuten and Torsten Feys have distinguished between borders as lines and frontiers as spaces of interaction: “Borders stand for man-made lines that divide the world into specific places, territories, to which legal, mobility and social norms apply”. By contrast, frontiers are “zones where two social systems (non-state societies, states, even world systems) come in contact and even overlap” (Van der Vleuten and Feys, 2016: 31). Such a terminology harks back to a core notion in American environmental history, the myth of the frontier. This specific kind of constantly advancing and highly imaginary border and its implications for American ideas about the environment have been important issues in environmental history research (Worster, 1994 [1977]; Worster, 2016: 32-36). In order to avoid such misunderstandings, we will prefer using the notion of border regions.

In environmental history, there is a long tradition of studying spaces, such as landscapes, and their perception. Border areas have recently received some scholarly attention. Often spaces of low population densities or devoid of human populations whatsoever, they served as interesting laboratories for the undisturbed development of wildlife, such as the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas, the former Iron Curtain now turned into a European Green Belt and the Chernobyl death zone. The latter could arguably be characterized as an awkward kind of new frontier towards a radioactive wilderness in the age of the anthropocene, rather than a border region (Coates, 2014; Brady, 2008; Eckert, forthcoming 2019).

Environmental history has also alerted us to the fact that -borders frequently cut across continuous natural spaces (Coates, 2014; Cunningham, 2012). Cases in point are river basins, seas and skies that are intimately connected by natural forces, such as the flow of water and wind. This frequently creates transnational political and economic problems, for instance when pollution crosses national borders – from an upstream to a downstream location (Eckert, 2014), or is blown by the wind, such as SO2 pollution (Kaijser, 2013; Metzger, 2015; Rothschild, 2014) or nuclear fall-out mentioned above. Moreover, many ecosystems are interconnected by the transboundary migration of wild animals such as salmon or the ungulates of the Serengeti (Taylor, 2008). Birds and some marine animals migrate even longer distances across continents, across multiple national boundaries. Such transnational migration induced their protection by multilateral international agreements (Cioc, 2009). Transboundary environmental problems have frequently led to bilateral, but also broader international agreements, such as in the case of the Rhine, which crosses a number of national borders (Wirth, 2000; Cioc, 2002; Bernhardt, 2016).

All articles in this special issue address three sets of central questions, in order to explore transboundary issues and transboundary relations around nuclear installations at the border. First, why was it decided and who decided to site nuclear installations at the border? Which economic (such as the possibility to sell electricity abroad, and being close to consumers), technical (such as access to cooling water), political (such as regional policy ambitions to provide jobs in depressed regions, or to avoid political resistance in impoverished, peripheral and -“backward” areas, as media and anti-nuclear activists have frequently suspected (Spiegel, 1976; Gaumer, 2017; Gaumer, 2018)) and safety reasons (such as ensuring a low population density in the immediate vicinity of the plant) mattered (Yellin and Joskow, 1979)? How did the various contemporaries define “distance to the border”, and how did this change? Were effects of “upstream” and “downstream” locations (in terms of wind or water) taken into account? What kind of neighbourly relations were predominant – friendly or conflictual – and what were the implications of this? Were the countries on both sides of the border committed to nuclear power? Secondly, what were the implications and consequences of the border site for the different actors – researchers and research bodies, state actors, such as elected politicians and regulators, utilities, industry and anti-nuclear movements? Who cooperated across the border and how? Which kind of information was transferred across the border? Thirdly, what were the longer-term outcomes of siting nuclear installations at the border? Did transboundary relations constitute an important reason for continuing – or actually discontinuing the -building and use of the respective nuclear installation?

This special issue includes four articles analysing different kinds of nuclear installations in different parts of Europe. The first one focuses on the Iberian Peninsula where different kinds of nuclear facilities – uranium mines, reactors and sites for waste storage – were located (or were planned to be located) close to the Spanish-Portuguese border from the 1960s until today. The second article deals with a Swedish nuclear power plant (NPP) constructed in the early 1970s at Barsebäck on the coast of the Öresund only twenty kilometres away from Copenhagen, the Danish capital. The third article is about a fast breeder reactor officially called Superphénix Creys-Malville. It was co-owned by France, Italy and Germany and built from the late 1970s near the little village of Malville in France about hundred kilometres from the Swiss and Italian borders. The fourth article discusses a final nuclear waste repository that was planned in Gorleben in West Germany from the late 1970s and onwards, very close to the East German border and to Morsleben, where East Germany already had built a waste facility for low level radioactive waste. In all four cases the nuclear facilities spurred complex relationships between many kinds of actors on both sides of the border. These relationships changed markedly over time.

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Figure 1: Transboundary Protest against the Swedish Barsebäck nuclear power plant: Poster of first “Nordic Atomic March, 7 August 1976. We are meeting at Barsebäck. Main Slogans of the March: Stop Nuclear Power, Norden against Barsebäck … For a resource-sustainable society… March organised by [Swedish, Danish and Norwegian] environmental groups in the North”.

Source: OOA Private Archive/Siegfried Christiansen, Copenhagen, © OOA Fonden,

In the Spanish-Portuguese case, three phases can be distinguished. In the first phase, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, the two fascist regimes collaborated on research and development of nuclear power, which both regimes perceived and represented as a symbols of “modernity” and “development”. Power companies in the two countries even planned to build NPPs jointly at the border. However, this failed because the Portuguese were unable to muster the necessary capital. Both countries experienced a change of regime in the mid-1970s. This marked the beginning of a new phase also in terms of nuclear relationships. The new democracies allowed for political dissent. As this political change coincided with the growth of anti-nuclear protest worldwide, anti-nuclear movements sprang up in both countries, and they cooperated in their opposition against nuclear sites close to the border. The nuclear authorities started focusing more on safety issues and in 1980 a bilateral commission was set up to oversee the nuclear installations close to the border. The third phase started in 1986 when both countries became members of the EC and when the Chernobyl accident had a major impact on the public perception of nuclear power. Portugal decided to abandon its plans for nuclear power, while Spain limited its nuclear programme to the ten NPPs that were already operating. This third phase was characterised by increasing tensions between the two governments regarding Spanish nuclear facilities close to the common border. Several times representatives from the European institutions were called in to settle these conflicts.

In the case of Sweden and Denmark, international, diplomatic and transnational relations also developed from cooperation to cross-border conflict, with a remarkably similar chronology. At the time when the NPP at Barsebäck was planned and built, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Danish and Swedish power companies and nuclear authorities cooper-ated closely and trustfully. Back then, Denmark also had an ambitious nuclear programme and planned to build NPPs, and Danish utilities decided to purchase power from Barsebäck in the meantime. In the early 1970s anti-nuclear movements emerged in Sweden and Denmark. From 1976 they cooperated in annual marches against the Barsebäck NPP. A number of political parties took an anti-nuclear stance in both countries. The Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in 1979 seemed to corroborate the arguments of the critics of nuclear power and strengthened anti-nuclear mobilization. In order to prevent the nuclear issue from affecting elections again, as it had done in 1976, the Swedish government thus decided to hold a referendum in 1980 on the future of nuclear power. The outcome was a decision to further expand the nuclear programme in the short run, along with a commitment to phasing out all reactors by 2010. Conversely, in Denmark, where construction of nuclear power plants had never even started, a decision was taken in 1985 to give up the commercial nuclear programme. A year later, under the impression of the Chernobyl -accident, the Danish Parliament demanded a closure of the Barsebäck NPP. When the Swedish Minister of Energy proposed to start the shut-down in the mid-1990s, this led to a strong back-lash from industry and trade unions. Thus the plant remained a cause of friction between Denmark in Sweden. However, unlike in the Spanish-Portuguese case, the cross-border conflict was indeed solved in 1998 by the Swedish government’s decision to close down Barsebäck. Eventually, the first reactor was closed in 1999 and the second one in 2005.

The third case of the Superphénix also has a number of distinct phases. In 1970 French, Italian and German power companies began the collaboration to design a large scale fast breeder “industrial prototype”. In 1976 a formal decision to start the building of the reactor was taken, and construction began at Creys-Malville, East of Lyons. Immediately activists began protesting at the site. The following year a huge demonstration was organised, involving protesters from different European countries, notably from Germany. When the police intervened with heavy gear, one activist was killed and three were severely injured. After this the French anti-nuclear movement gave up large scale demonstrations as a strategy. Instead scientists at CERN in Geneva took over the role as main opponents of Superphénix based on their “expert critique” of the design of the plant, acting as counter-experts (Rucht, 1988). In the following year also NGOs, and the city and canton of Geneva became increasingly critical of the plant. Nonetheless, the Superphénix plant was built and started its operation in early 1986. A year later a serious incident occurred when sodium leaked out in the fuel transfer system. This led to a stop and a far reaching repair of the plant. It also induced new protests at all levels, and a law suit intended to prohibit a restart of the plant. Nonetheless, in 1989 the plant was restarted, but only a year later a new incident occurred with air entering the argon atmosphere. The reactor was stopped again. Intense discussions followed involving all stakeholders, leading to changes in the plant’s purpose. The reactor was allowed to start anew in 1994, but three years later the French government responded to the intense critique by deciding to close the plant.

The chronology of the fourth case of the Gorleben nuclear waste facility is equally structured by major conflicts. In 1977 the West German company responsible for nuclear waste storage applied for authorisation to build a major facility in Gorleben, in Lower Saxony, in a sparsely populated area close to East Germany. The application, including a reprocessing plant, interim storage and an underground final waste repository in the salt domes far below the surface, triggered intense protests and a local anti-nuclear movement evolved. However, protest was limited to the West German side as the population on the Eastern side was not informed and not able to protest either. To the surprise of the West German authorities the East Berlin party leadership remained remarkably silent as well. This may have been because the GDR government was committed to its own nuclear power projects and did not want to encourage domestic or international debate about the safety of nuclear facilities. As the protests in Gorleben grew in strength, the government of Lower Saxony organized a public hearing. At the opening day of the hearing the TMI accident occurred which influenced its outcome. As a result the government decided not to permit the reprocessing plant, which was most contested, but continue with the other parts of the plant. In the summer of 1983 anti-nuclear activists organised summer camps in the area, and also made rather daring and provocative entries into the border area to attract attention to their cause. They could however not prevent the building of the intermediate storage plant, while the decision on long-term storage is still outstanding to this day. After the Berlin Wall came down anti-nuclear groups were formed also on the eastern side of the former border and soon common demonstrations were organized. Such protests have continued ever since. Protest is primarily directed against the transport of dry cask containers from reprocessing in France to Gorleben once a year.

There are a number of striking differences among the four cases, but also some common findings. Why were these nuclear facilities located close to borders in the first place? Here the four cases differ when it comes to the kind of factors that were of importance. In the case of uranium mines (in Spain and Portugal) and waste storage facilities (Germany and Spain) favourable geological conditions just happened to be located close to the border. In the case of Superphénix a location fairly close to the Italian and German borders was deliberately chosen to facilitate – and to symbolise – international cooperation and European integration in this joint project. Economic and infrastructural reasons were central in the case of Barsebäck and some early plans for NPPs on the Spanish-Portuguese border. Such a location was chosen to facilitate the export of electricity and cross-border power exchange. By contrast, Gorleben was deliberately selected by the West German authorities, even if there were salt domes also at a further distance, for its border location. Politicians treated it as a regional development project in a rural, sparsely populated and economically marginal area on the inner-German border. In the 1970s and 1980s, policy makers frequently assumed that citizens in such regions would be less likely to object to nuclear projects. Not surprisingly, in the 1980s, when West German politicians tried to find a different site for a reprocessing plant it was to be placed in an ecomically struggling region near the Cold War border to Czechoslovakia, for exactly these reasons (Gaumer, 2018). However, apparently the Gorleben site also served as a kind of retaliation for an East German waste site located close to the border on the other side. Here, in a situation of a border charged with conflict already, we can observe that the decision added a new transboundary issue and actually aggravated the conflict in already tense transboundary relations.

Until about 1970, both in democratic and authoritarian countries, the siting of nuclear facilities was done in a top-down fashion of technocratic decision-making involving only a small number of experts, who at times had actually consulted across the border with other experts. Such a depoliticised approach was no longer possible from the mid-1970s onwards, when the awareness of the risks of nuclear facilities was increasing internationally. This was partly due to the critique from a growing anti-nuclear movement and their counter experts, partly from media coverage of the TMI and Chernobyl accidents. What mattered were also specific incidents in the different nuclear facilities at the border themselves, which highlighted that the transboundary issue was real, and nuclear risks could have cross-border impacts: A water leakage occurred at the nuclear research facility in Manzanares, Spain, in 1972 causing radioactive contamination that was measured downstream in the Tagus River by Portuguese nuclear authorities. Two incidents in the Superphénix plant in 1987 and 1990 led to very long standstills, and similarly an incident in the Barsebäck NPP in 1992 demonstrated a construction flaw and led to a five month standstill. This growing awareness influenced the organisation and behaviour of nuclear authorities, which in the 1950s and 1960s mainly had a promotional role, but in the 1970s became more independent regulating authorities.

The growing risk awareness also led to a changing perception of what it means to be “close” to a nuclear installation. For example the Spanish-Portuguese Technical Commission set up in 1980 to oversee nuclear facilities close to the border, increased its definition of close from 30 to 100 kilometres in the mid-1980s. The siting of the Barsebäck NPP, just 20 kilometres from Copenhagen and major Swedish cities, was not seen as problematic around 1970. About ten years later however it began to be referred to as the “world’s worst located reactor” (Nielsen, 2000), not least as the media reports of the evacuations at TMI in 1979 showed that much of Copenhagen would be affected in case of a similar accident. After Chernobyl, which spread radiation across Europe at long distances, the Danish anti-nuclear movement organisation, Organisation for Nuclear Information, OOA, targeted all reactors within 150 kilometres of the Danish borders in their “Radiating Neighbours” campaign of 1986.

The transboundary issues posed by nuclear sites at the border created conflicts in international relations between neighbouring countries.

Governments, under pressure from their anti-nuclear movements, sought to defuse such conflicts by referring to international organisations. In the case of the numerous conflicts between Portugal and Spain, after having become members in 1986, the Portuguese government appealed to the European Communities to act as an arbiter. Similarly, Denmark and Sweden created a committee on the safety of Barsebäck, facilitated by common Nordic Council membership, and chaired by a Norwegian. Thus, also on nuclear issues, governments of countries with good neighbourly relations resorted to received practices of internationalising cross-border (environmental) problems. Such practices go back to the earlier part of the twentieth century, for instance, with the founding of the International Joint Commission, created in 1909 to deal with conflicts on the border between Canada and the United States (Wirth, 2000; Meyer, 2017).

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Figure 2: Social movement pressure for transboundary diplomatic action: “Signatures submitted to Prime Minister Anker Jørgensen, 22 May 1979”. After the Three Mile Island Accident, the Danish Anti-Nuclear Movement collected 311,950 signatures in support of a letter calling upon the Danish Prime Minister to demand the closure of Barsebäck from the Swedish government.

Source: OOA Private Archive/Siegfried Christiansen, Copenhagen, Photo copyright kindly granted by: © Søren Rud, Copenhagen

Not only did nuclear transboundary conflicts strain international relations with neighbouring countries, but in many cases there were tensions between different levels of government – national, regional, local – involved in the processes. In the case of the West German waste facilities, there was a struggle between the state and federal level. Ernst Albrecht, the Christian Democratic Prime Minister of the State of Lower Saxony refused to let the Federal Government, led by the Social Democratic Chancellor Helmuth Schmidt, decide where the nuclear waste facilities should be located. Albrecht wanted to locate it at Gorleben, very close to the border, while Schmidt feared that this might disturb relations with GDR that were already quite difficult. However, in the end Schmidt agreed to Gorleben, as the Lower Saxony salt domes were seen as an ideal kind of storage place and as all other sites had become politically unviable. In the case of Superphénix there was also a struggle within Switzerland between the Canton of Geneva and the Federal Government in Bern. The Canton of Geneva was very outspoken in its critique of Superphénix, it made amendments to its constitution and took part in lawsuits, while the Federal Government was very cautious about its friendly international relations with the French government (as well as its ongoing domestic nuclear programme) and refused to protest against Superphénix. Also in Spain there were strong tensions between the National Government in Madrid and the Regional Government of Salamanca, concerning a planned waste facility close to the Portuguese border. And in Sweden, the municipality of Kävlinge, in which Barsebäck was located, protested intensely against the decision by the government to close the Barsebäck NPP, from which it benefitted in terms of employment and tax revenue. However, the municipality had no power to prevent the decision taken at the national level. These findings demonstrate that the history and politics of nuclear energy were in many cases much more complex than the contemporary critique of “the state” as an instrument of the nuclear sector (Jungk, 1977) would suggest.

The modes and means and the transboundary relations of the anti-nuclear movements have much in common but also differ somewhat between the four cases. The non-existence of such movements in Spain and Portugal until 1975 and in East Germany until 1989 shows the necessity of democracy, civil liberties, and a free and open public sphere, for such movements to emerge. A common mode of action for these movements – and there was of course much learning across borders – was to take to the streets and organize demonstrations with the aim of reaching out to -ordinary citizens and to politicians. In the case of nuclear facilities close to borders these demonstrations were often organised jointly by activists on both sides of the border. This was, however, not possible on the West-East German border before the fall of the wall, as there were very few critics on the other side. Eastern critics could not simply organize or participate in a demonstration, let alone travel to West Germany for joint demonstrations until 1989. The Cold War border was hard to penetrate from the Eastern side. In Gorleben, West German activists organized summer camps to support the local population, and also made rather daring and provocative entries into the border area to attract attention to their cause. In the case of Superphénix, there was an enormous mobilization of activists from all over Europe in the summer of 1977, which led to a violent clash with the police with a fatal outcome. The tragic death of an activist became a turning point, and after this the struggle against Superphénix changed dramatically in its character. From now on “expert critique” not least from CERN-employed physicists in Geneva played a major role, as did law suits against the plant initiated by NGOs but also supported by Swiss cantons and municipalities. Also the OOA in Denmark gradually developed an “expert critique” of nuclear power and simultaneously promoted alternative energy scenarios based on renewable energy. Furthermore they developed what has been called “NGO diplomacy” (Betsill and Corell, 2007). OOA collected large numbers of signatures demanding the closure not only of the Barsebäck NPP but also of West and East German reactors close to Denmark. These lists of signatures were handed over to the Copenhagen embassies of these countries.

Borders are not only a contested issue in present-day societies. The issue of borders also proves to be an analytically productive concept, which helps understanding how boundaries have shaped and continue to shape human, societal, economic and political relations and relations with technologies, such as nuclear installations, that involve considerable risks and may have a major impact, across national borders.

This special issue shows that borders affected various kinds of nuclear installations in different parts of Europe in a similar way. While at a symbolic level, nuclear waste sites and breeders were much more controversial than power plants, patterns of cross-border conflict and transboundary protest were remarkably similar across all kinds of nuclear installations. Utilities, policy makers and protesters were facing similar problems and opportunities.

What clearly mattered was the type of border. Borders characterised by trust and peaceful cooperation, such as the Danish-Swedish border and the Spanish-Portuguese border, where this was reinforced by cultural and linguistic similarities, facilitated transboundary cooperation – among authorities, research bodies, but also among protesters. Such cooperation induced a search for solutions that sought to integrate the concerns of the other side. It led to the closure for instance of the Barsebäck plant and the cancelling of some of the plans for nuclear installations in Spain. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Cold War divide in which small provocations and fences intercepted even the debate about solutions to transboundary problems.

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Figure 3: Chernobyl highlighted the transboundary effects of radiation, and led the Danish Anti-Nuclear Organisation OOA to collect 160,000 signatures against nuclear power plants in Sweden, East and West Germany. Campaign poster “Join OOA’s signature collection drive: Radiating Neighbours – Thanks anyway”, 1986

Source: OOA Private Archive/Siegfried Christiansen, Copenhagen, © OOA Fonden,

This introduction can only offer tentative conclusions based on four empirical examples. The findings are also limited by the fact that all cases primarily draw on West European experiences. To embrace the issue of borders more fully, it would thus be useful to extend the scope, including additional cases from Central and Eastern Europe, where the issue of borders gained new attention after the end of the Soviet Union. Comparing European and overseas examples could also help understand whether cross border relations in Europe were different from transboundary relations elsewhere. Similarly, comparing between border sites at state borders within a country – in federal systems – and at international borders could be instructive (e.g. Williams, 1997), notably in the light of our observation that the state or regional level often played an active role in nuclear and transboundary relations. Furthermore, drawing on recent debates in the history of technology (Jasanoff and Kim, 2015; Hecht, 2006b; Hecht, 2006a), comparisons between nuclear and other kinds of risk related technological facilities (Rucht, 1995) located at borders would allow for learning more about what is specific concerning nuclear technology.

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1 The authors would like to acknowledge the useful comments by the scholars present at the Siting Nuclear Installations at Borders. Transnational political implications and societal responses workshop held at Humboldt University (Berlin) in November 2017, and the anonymous reviewers. Research for this article has been conducted in the context of the HoNESt – History of Nuclear Energy and Society Project. This project has received funding from the Euratom research and training programme 2014-2018 under grant agreement N°662268. Despite of this, the views expressed here are entirely of the authors’ responsibility, as well as any errors and/or omissions.

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Journal for the History of Environment and Society

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