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Let's Buy a Nuclear Plant

A group of German politicians, activists and celebrities has set up a Web site asking for donations to buy a plutonium processing plant in the town of Hanau before the government sells it to China.

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Some worry that China could use the Hanau plant to produce material for nuclear weapons.

"Let's Buy Hanau Ourselves," is the name of the initiative sponsored by the German branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) that got kicked off on Thursday. The goal is simple, if ambitious -- raise €50 million plus one euro to buy the Hanau Fuel Element Factory owned by Siemens and prevent the factory from going to China, which wants to buy it for €50 million.

"China could use the plant to create nuclear weapons, and we want to prevent that," Ute Watermann, spokesperson for IPPNW and the Hanau campaign, told DW-WORLD.

The plan to sell the Hanau plant to China came to light in December, after a trip there by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. While the German government is phasing out nuclear energy at home, it said it would likely approve the sale of the factory -- which was completed in 1991 but never went into operation -- unless concerns about China using the factory for military ends could not be eliminated.

The Hanau plant itself does not contain a nuclear reactor, rather it enables the production of fuel for nuclear power plants.

Still, nuclear energy opponents are outraged at the plan, saying even if China uses the plant for civilian energy production, a by-product of the process is weapons-grade plutonium.

"It's an unbelievably dangerous technology," Watermann said. "There is no purely civilian use for such a plant.

The ruling coalition will decide over the next few weeks if China fulfils the conditions for the sale. According to Gernot Erler, Social Democrat parliamentary group leader, the government is confident that China will pass the test and the sale will go ahead.

Star power

The citizens group has gotten several German celebrities from the worlds of theater and television on board to lend the cause visibility and a little star power.

"One shouldn't go along with the duplicity of the government," said Peter Sodann, one of the regulars om the popular television series "Tatort" and a supporter of the initiative "With one hand we're getting out of nuclear energy, with the other hand we're selling [nuclear technology] to China."

Author Erich Loest, also lending his name to the campaign, said whatever guarantees China may have given to the German government about its planned uses for the plant, "we don't know what China will actually do with it."

Other high-profile names from the worlds of art and entertainment include cabaret star Martin Buchholz, the comedy duo Badesalz and songwriter Konstantin Wecker.

Left-leaning German politicians have joined in the effort as well, including some members of Schröder's own social democrats. SPD parliamentarian and winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, Hermann Scheer, has been outspoken about the proposed sale, saying the nuclear trade needs to be stopped.

"The government needs to live up to its responsibilities," he said.

Pie in the sky?

Ute Watermann admits that the goal of €50 million is a difficult one, especially since the group is giving themselves just three to four weeks to raise it.

"It would be a dream if we did get there," she said. "But the real goal is to show the government that the public wants the sale to be stopped."

Supporters who want to contribute are not asked to send money or give credit card numbers, rather they fax in a form on which they promise to contribute a certain amount of money in case the €50 million goal is reached and the purchase can go ahead. She said the response up to now has been large, even though she could not cite an average sum being pledged.

"They're running the gamut, from €10 to €500," she said. "But the fax machine has been going non stop."

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