Retired pharmacist versus Germany: a Cologne court has begun hearing the case of an activist intent on having Germany remove US nuclear warheads being stored at a military base located in western Germany.
A court case got underway on Thursday in Cologne concerning the possible storage of up to 20 nuclear bombs at a military base in Rhineland Palatinate, which, according to Elke Koller, an anti-nuclear peace activist from a nearby village, goes against German basic law.
Koller, a retired pharmacist, sued the federal government in April 2010 to force Berlin to remove all nuclear weapons from the country - whether they belong to Germany or not.
Koller made her first claims in a Cologne administrative court
Between 10 and 20 US B61 nuclear warheads, which have an explosive force up to 13 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, are believed to be stored in highly protected underground vaults at the Büchel military base located in the low mountainous Eifel region just east of the Belgian border.
Also at the airbase is a fleet of German Tornado IDS aircraft, high-speed fighter jets equipped to carry the US bombs for deployment in case of an emergency in Europe.
Elke Koller's claim concerns the implications of this "emergency" usage; despite the fact that the bombs technically belong to the US - and can't be fired without clearance from Washington - any participation from Germany in their deployment violates the country's laws against use of "atomic, biological and chemical weapons in situations of armed conflict."
In her backyard garden at her home four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the base, Koller points over the distant hills to where she says the atomic bombs are located.
"I feel threatened here, yeah. I'm scared that circumstances could arise in which an enemy would want to attack this base. And there are accidents that can happen with nuclear weapons."
Koller's assumptions are based on an article published in 2003 in the biannual Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "The B61 family of bombs," which refers to the B61 stockpile in Büchel.
When asked in an interview about the need to cope with US atomic weapons on German grounds, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, without referring explicitly to the officially unconfirmed storage at Büchel, said that the "removal of nuclear weapons" was one of the central aspects of Germany's contribution to global nuclear non-proliferation.
Westerwelle says non-proliferation is a major priority
"My politics has always been against nuclear weapons and of course for the removal of nuclear weapons from Germany. But I must add that this is part of international disarmament negotiations," Westerwelle said.
Westerwelle added that much effort was needed to further nuclear disarmament and that Germany would take "no steps on its own."
For anti-nuclear protesters like Elke Koller, however, the time has arrived for action, even if it has to be "unilateral."
"I've never felt safe or as if I were protected by nuclear weapons. On the contrary: they are a target for enemies," a completely earnest Koller said.
"The way I see it, there are three main targets in Germany: Berlin, as capital, Frankfurt, as banking hub, and Büchel, where the nuclear weapons are."
Author: Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Andreas Illmer