December 02, 2010
Political Fallout of Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Reaches Europe
Meanwhile, the Austrian government has called for a European 'stress test' for nuclear reactors, the Swiss have suspended the replacement of old plants, the increasingly popular French Greens have called for a national referendum on nuclear energy, and UK energy minister Chris Huhne has called for a throughout review of the safety records of British reactors in the light of the crisis at Fukushima. El Pais reports that the "nuclear debate has been re-opened in Spain as well."
In Italy, which like Austria has refused nuclear power altogether, Nichi Vendola, described as a "rising star of the Left," is quoted by France 2 as saying that the Fukushima accident has "mortally wounded the legend of nuclear safety." Belgian Minister of the Environment, Annemie Turtelboom, who incidentally launched a nuclear safety campaign today ("what to do in the event of a nuclear disaster?") has said she is "profoundly re-thinking the use of nuclear energy."
But the most significant of all these developments is still Merkel's sudden change of tack, which comes just two weeks before regional elections in a country where the nuclear issue remains highly politicized. As much as 70 percent of Germans is said to be opposed to nuclear energy, and some 60,000 people took to the streets of a town near Stuttgart on Saturday to protest the extension of Germany's old nuclear plants. Today, the leader of the Greens, Claudia Roth, fiercely criticized the government, calling its nuclear policy "cynical and immoral."
In the meantime, Der Spiegel ran an extensive and vehemently anti-nuclear article today, referring to Fukushima as the "9/11 of the nuclear industry" and the "the end of the nuclear era." Attacking the "arrogant" and "self-assured attitude" of the nuclear industry and its proponents, the authors warned that "if an accident of this magnitude could happen in Japan, it can happen just as easily in Germany. All that's needed is the right chain of fatal circumstances. Fukushima is everywhere."
Merkel, whose Conservative government overturned a decision by the previous government to phase-out nuclear power, was quick in her attempt to avert a political backlash, noting that "if a highly developed country like Japan, with high safety standards and norms, cannot prevent the consequences of nuclear power of an earthquake and a tsunami, then that has consequences for the whole world."
As the Italian daily La Repubblica observed, "Merkel's about-face is of great political importance, and as [Europe's] leading country, Germany can influence the basic guidelines for the rest of Europe with its decisions." EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, who is a member of Merkel's party, stated that "if we take seriously and say the incident has changed the world -- and much that we as an industrial society have regarded as safe and manageable is now in question -- then we can't exclude anything."
In the UK, The Independent observes that "more than the immediate safety of the local population hangs on the ability of the three damaged reactors at Fukushima. In the balance is the whole future of the world's nuclear renaissance." In an apparent sign of "the apprehension being felt by the nuclear industry," a lecture by Tony Blair's former Chief Scientist, Sir David King, at Oxford University was cancelled. King was meant to deliver a briefing on Britain's nuclear future in which he would propose nuclear as a solution to the problems of climate change and energy insecurity.
Which brings us to a crucial question (for which it is actually still much too soon, given the fact that a few dozen heroic Japanese workers are currently risking their lives to avert a complete nuclear catastrophe). The question, however, is already begging for an answer: will the political fallout of Fukushima spell the 'End of the Nuclear Renaissance', as Eben Harrel just wrote for TIME Magazine's Ecocentric blog?
And if so, what will be the consequences for Europe's efforts to mitigate climate change? More on this as the situation in Japan develops and as we receive more information from Brussels, Paris and Berlin in coming days.
In the meantime, here are some relevant statistics from Le Monde:
The majority of countries in the European Union have nuclear plants: France (19 plants and 58 reactors), UK (9 and 19), Germany (12 and 17), Sweden (7 and 16), Spain (6 and 9), Belgium (2 and 7), Finland (4 reactors), Hungary (4), Bulgaria (2), Greece (1), Lithuania (1), Netherlands (2), Romania (2), Slovakia (4), Slovenia (1) and Czech Republic (6).
Altogether, there are 195 nuclear power plants in Europe, 19 of which are presently under construction.
Read about the developing world's response to the Fukushima incident here.