Germany gets the message, decides to close nuclear power plants

Posted May 31st, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Germany gets the message, decides to close nuclear power plants

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

It’s a bold move in today’s economy, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government are committed to bringing an end to nuclear energy in Germany. In an announcement yesterday, May 30, the government said it will close all its nuclear plants by 2022.

The announcement follows on a recommendation from a commission established to look into the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

What strikes me about this decision is how ‘adult’ it is, how mature. It’s like an adolescent growing up to realize that some behavior really is reckless, can cause grave harm, even though in the moment it provides for great pleasure.  It’s realizing that there are limits, that sometimes people do stupid things and pay the consequences.

Remember that old definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result. In the face of reality, Germany has decided to be sane.

Source: US Department of Labor/OSHA

The decision stands out for sure. Countries like Japan, France, Britain, the Netherlands see nuclear energy as a way out of the emissions conundrum. Of course, developing a nuclear plant requires a lot of dirty energy, but once up and running, it burns cleanly. That’s the up side if all you’re talking about is carbon emissions. If you care about the rest – the mining of uranium, the fact that we have no safe place to store spent fuel, the vulnerability of many plants to various kinds of disasters, how insecure a lot of these plants and their enriched materials are, and on and on, it seems a devil’s bargain with the future of humanity.

But the global economy being what it is, built upon industrial growth with an insatiable appetite for energy, the only way our incredibly uncreative world leaders seem to be able to imagine the future is by feeding the voracious appetite of this industrial machine with more extractive, earth-contaminating, earth-damaging energy sources.

In that context, Germany’s decision looks bold indeed. Reminds me of JFK’s challenge about getting a man to the moon within a decade. That call sparked an incredible era of innovation, exploration, development of new technologies that made it possible to meet that challenge.

Imagine what this decision might spark in Germany, how they might really become pioneers in how a nation can move itself off fossil fuels by really focusing the attention of the scientists and engineers. Give ’em a deadline. Just watch what happens.

Just to put this in context, place this story alongside another in the NY Times today – about how Japan bought the acquiescence of Japanese communities to accept nuclear power plants by offering cash, investments, and jobs. Some of these communities became quite affluent and even privileged. The devil’s bargain. Now, having faced one of the worst nuclear disasters ever, and with other reactors known to be equally vulnerable, Japan faces the reality that it is completely dependent on nuclear power for the foreseeable future, and therefore faces a future full of potential for more disasters.

Fukushima Daichii - photo found at

And here? We can’t even have this conversation! Pres Obama is committed to nuclear energy as part of our energy future, others see it as a crucial transitional source on the way to renewables. So for now, the energy plan is to invest more public and private money into drilling and fracking the dirtiest fuels, along with strip-mining and mountaintop removal, in addition to nuclear power, and talk of solar, wind, geothermal, tidal sources meets with derision by the corporate right which pretty much owns energy politics right now. The arguments they use are similar to those in Japan – the promise of economic growth and more jobs. And with that, they sell this sorry bill of goods to the US public.

As if the spark of creativity and innovation that will now be unleashed in Germany is not another way of creating jobs, as if it is not another path to create a more scaled down, satisfying way to live on the planet.

So who is the grown-up here? And what are the prospects that this society could move towards a sane, adult energy future?  As long as the politics of energy remains in the hands of the fossil fuel giants and their minions in legislatures around the country, we have no prospects of getting serious about new sources of energy. They don’t want innovation in solar, wind, and the rest – they want profits for their own shareholders.

And for that reason alone, they should not be making decisions about our energy future.



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