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  • Atomgeschäfte. Die Nuklearexportpolitik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1970–1979 [Nuclear deals: The nuclear export policy of the Federal Republic of Germany 1970–1979] by Daniel Romberg
  • Astrid Mignon Kirchhof (bio)
Atomgeschäfte. Die Nuklearexportpolitik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1970–1979 [Nuclear deals: The nuclear export policy of the Federal Republic of Germany 1970–1979] By Daniel Romberg. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2020. Pp. 413.

Daniel Romberg's dissertation examines the developments and problems with the high phase of West German nuclear exports in the 1970s. This phase ended with the accident at the U.S. nuclear power plant near Harrisburg in 1979, because the dangers of nuclear power suddenly became clear to a broad public. Nuclear technology exports, which in the Federal Republic of Germany were subject to restrictions in accordance with the Foreign Trade Act, meant two things: (1) the export of nuclear technology, such as nuclear power plants, reprocessing plants, uranium enrichment plants, and plants for the production of fuel struts; and (2) the associated know-how and bilateral agreements on nuclear co-operation, thus the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, dating back to Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech (Joachim Radkau/Lothar Hahn, Aufstieg und Fall der deutschen Atomwirtschaft).

The author analyses five case studies, breaking them down according to realized (Iran, Argentina, and Brazil) and failed (Soviet Union and South Africa) exports. The study is not a classic technical history work in the sense that it examines the effects of technological developments on social processes. Rather, it is located at the intersection of economic and political history and is written from the federal government perspective, which is why Romberg illuminates two groups of German actors. On the one hand, he analyzes the Brandt and Schmidt governments and the ministries involved in political negotiations. The government handled the bilateral nuclear agreements and intervened in private-sector negotiations on the nuclear exports of the Power Plant Union (KWU), i.e., the manufacturer of the reactors, and other companies. On the other hand, Romberg examines the commercial enterprises, especially the KWU and electricity producer STEAG, which developed the enrichment technology. Romberg's study addresses three central questions. First, he looks into whether the Brandt and Schmidt governments pursued a certain concept with regard to nuclear exports. Second, he analyzes the foreign policy negotiations on nuclear exports based on the credibility of the federal government's non-proliferation-treaty (NPT) regime. Third, he examines the foreign and domestic political significance of nuclear exports, questioning the federal government's independence from America as well as the domestic peace and antinuclear movement's role.

Germany's governments did not follow a red line in nuclear exports, but pursued an "involvement through cooperation" strategy. The aim was [End Page 546] to cooperate with states outside the NPT regime to stop them going down the self-sufficient path, and instead encourage them to allow international control. However, as Romberg discovered, this concept often only concealed efforts to engage in nuclear export as unhindered as possible.

In America, criticism of the Federal Republic's nuclear export policy arose at an early stage, which it underlined with political pressure on the German governments. The U.S. government, especially under Jimmy Carter, saw the NPT as no longer effective and preferred to refuse sensitive technology. Carter was unable to make convincing objections to German nuclear export policy or negotiate a compromise, which demonstrates the federal government's increasing independence from America (Stephan Geier, Schwellenmacht). For the West German peace and anti-nuclear movement, nuclear exports were less of a problem than cooperation with dictatorial regimes, but the movement increased its criticism of nuclear exports steadily during the 1970s (Dolores Augustine, Taking on Technocracy).

The study clearly shows that the claim that subsequent German governments wanted to strengthen reactor safety worldwide with nuclear exports is wrong. The Brandt and Schmidt governments were not interested in delivering reactors that were safer than others to the military governments of Brazil and Argentina, the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Shah regime in Iran, or the Soviet Union. Economic interests were at stake, and the governments' desire for more room to maneuver in foreign policy meant it did not...