The Greentec Scandal

Trying the waters: How would the DFR fare at a German environmental technology contest? Putting a nuclear reactor right between biomass burners and balcony-based miniature wind turbines — this was sure to garner attention! Since we had explored not only the technological, but also the economic feasibility of our design early in the project timeline — which is rather unusual for large-scale technology — and presented it in several publications (one of these reviewed the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA), and had made sure to enjoy patent protection, there was nothing to stop us from taking part. On March 31, 2013, we entered our concept into the “Greentec-Awards”, Europe’s largest environment and economy competition.

In terms of eco-friendliness, the DFR comes out on top. This had been realized by the people who voted for us in the online-voting, which we thus won by a wide margin. According to the rules, we were now among the three nominees in or categorie (“Galileo Science Award”), of which a congratulation email informed us on May 22. We were invited to the award ceremony in Berlin on August 30, 2013.

But sooner than later, someone among the jury stumbled onto the word “nuclear reactor”. Oh, these crafty atomic criminals — infiltrating a competition committed to sustainability! Something had to be done here. On June 4, the over 50 members sat in conference and discussed, among other matters, how to proceed in the case of that “evil invention” that had been upvoted by some internet trolls.

On June 7, another email reached our inbox: our contribution had been banned from the contest. We were no longer nominated. This decision had been reached

„after thorough scientific discussion and thorough consideration of the scientific, social and communicative aspects of Your invention in relation to the aim of the Awards.”

No further elaboration. The contest seemed to have been turned into a kind of “Calvinball” — retroactively, the rules had been changed and the footnote added:

„selection of the nominees occurs in last instance independently through the jury of the GreenTec Awards, it is not subject to legal recourse.”

We explored legal steps, the Berlin court of appeal sustained our case: The jury would have to revoke the ban and include the DFR in the nomination! GreenTec Awards sought decision in the principal proceedings and obtained a verdict by the Berlin state court (first instance) against the DFR’s nomination — a few days before the ceremony. We appealed at the court of appeal (last instance), but there was too little time left to wait for a final sentence. Some months later, the court of appeal reached a verdict: If time had not run out, the decision would have been in our favor. All expenses would have to be carried by Greentec Awards. We could have pressed for restitution, but decided it was not worth the effort: We wanted to build a reactor, not waste time and nerves on legal proceedings.

Thus, this “experiment” yielded an interesting result: Nuclear energy projects are unpopular to such a degree in the German media, that people do not shy away from illegal ways to ban them from contests. The general public is more grounded and tends to think about these questions in a rational way, giving such a project a second look.

Meanwhile (2018), this story is history since five years. Has anything changed? The tremendous anti-nuclear emotional outburst shaking German mediascape and politics after Fukushima seems to have somewhat abated. But mass media pack great inertia.

Once again, we wish to thank all those who have stood up for our project! This is not the end, but hopefully the beginning of a debate about ideological discrimination against promising future technologies.