German Anti-Nuclear Movement Gains Political Momentum

The clout of Germany’s anti-nuclear movement grew more clear yesterday when an “Ethics Commission” appointed by Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded that Germany should abandon all plans to build nuclear reactors.  Additionally, the government should take its existing 17 power plants offline over the next ten years, as Judy Dempsey of The New York Times reported.    

The 22.6 per cent of the country’s electricity currently provided by nuclear plants should be replaced by clean and viable alternative energy sources, according to the committee’s recommendations.  The source substitutes should not consist of nuclear-generated energy imports, nor should a domestically-generated increase in greenhouse gas emissions be tolerated as a result of any renewed dependency on coal-burning plants.

The verdict posits the world’s most radical reaction to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.  The recommendations were considered something of a shock to the international community, given that no other country has yet proposed such a drastic change in energy policy.  Although Japan has abandoned building plans for 14 new reactor sites, nuclear power remains on the back-burner until the country’s energy policy can be re-assessed.  

Some countries like Italy and Switzerland have temporarily suspended nuclear building plans while awaiting reviews from safety inspectors and re-evaluating other energy sources.  Most nuclear power-generating countries, however, such as Russia, France, Britain, and Poland, have done little to revise their energy policies.  While nuclear power development is currently viewed as politically untenable in the U.S., the nation’s 104 reactor sites remain operational, including 35 boiling water reactors built with the same design as the Fukushima reactors.  

In Germany, Chancellor Merkel has indicated that the country will undoubtedly move away from nuclear power in the future, but many have criticized Merkel’s timetable for implementing the necessary policy revisions.  

After large-scale demonstrations by anti-nuclear, cross-party political protesters on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chernobyl in April, the verdict rendered by the Chancellor’s committee indicates clear support for popular German opinion on the nuclear question.  Merkel announced, “We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible.” 

Economic fallout looms inauspiciously for German energy companies, who have stressed that such drastic revisions to policy would not bode well for the national economy.  Electrical shortages and a new dependency upon energy imports are two of their most significant objections.  

The commission’s 28-page report, however, stresses the need for Germany to capitalize upon its chance to “create a high-powered economy,” spurring innovation and focusing on the development of alternative energy sources.  The innovation challenge should stimulate domestic economic growth, according to the panel.  Its 22 members, drawn from nongovernmental organizations and the energy industry, believe Germany will also benefit from a recommended 60 per cent reduction in energy usage, noting that energy rationing would not be acceptable.  

The commission advocates a staunch moral obligation and “ethical responsibility to combat climate change.”  While clean-coal technologies were touted by the panel as an example of a viable alternative, the generation of higher levels of greenhouse gases in any circumstances would not be allowable.

Currently, 42 per cent of German electricity is supplied by coal-fired power plants, 22.6 per cent is nuclear-generated, 16.5 per cent is provided by renewable technologies, and 13.6 per cent comes from natural gas sources.   

As Dempsey writes, Germany’s move away from a nuclear-powered future is clear.  “The only question [is] how long nuclear [will] be needed as a ‘bridge technology’ until other forms of energy [can] meet the country’s needs.”

The German committee’s recommendations will be reviewed by a panel of specialists meeting in Berlin this weekend before a final verdict is adopted into Germany’s nuclear energy policy. 

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