No Atomstrom in My Wohnhome!*

[* A semi-pun in GermanEnglish meaning “No nuclear electricity in my home”.]

Although I really didn’t think I’d be blogging on a daily basis right now, I do feel that I can’t just leave the current situation uncommented…

To sum things up: Three days ago, Japan was hit by a 9.0 (Richter scale) earth quake, resulting in widespread damage and causing a tsunami which swept across vast areas of the country. And what’s more, the combination of both of these events led to faults in four nuclear power plants, with the outer shell of one reactor in Fukushima 1 exploding. At the moment, 1,800 people are confirmed dead, 200,000 being evacuated from the areas surrounding the nuclear plants, and more than 10,000 people are still missing. I thought I should mention that because this post will most certainly be outdated in just a few hours as new information from Japan comes in (as slowly as that is happening…).

Since I am in Germany this weekend I was able to closely follow the re-ignited discussion about nuclear plants in this country, a topic which was already hotly debated just a few months ago when the government decided to keep Germany’s nuclear plants running for an average of 12 years longer than planned by the previous government. Which means that some of them will be running for another 25 years – that’s an entire generation!

Speaking of 25 years, that’s almost exactly the number of years which have passed since the disaster of Chernobyl shocked Europe and the world. So, one disaster every 25 years? Well, with Germany’s power plants still up and running in 25 years’ time, this country might even become proud sponsor of the next big nuclear disaster! Congrats! Although, think twice, such events come at quite a price: apparently even today the Ukraine still has to invest 5% of its annual GDP into dealing with the effects of Chernobyl. Oh, and I heard several people have complained about health problems too.

I apologise, I probably should be a bit less sarcastic about an event with such high international importance. Maybe I’m just getting sick of all the ridiculous pro-nuclear arguments I’ve heard on TV just now, while watching political talk show Anne Will – luckily they were in the minority. But it just grinds my gears when people use phrases such as “But it’s always been this way! Even though we all agree it’s a bad thing, we’ve relied on nuclear energy for decades now, so we can’t just suddenly stop.” Err, excuse me? Yes, maybe we can’t turn back time, but what we can do is change the future! Just because something “has always been that way” it doesn’t mean it has to go on forever – and the sooner we act, the sooner the past will become a better time too. Makes sense?!

Another common point pro-nuclear people like to make is: “Even if Germany stops operating power plants, we will then be surrounded by other countries who still have them – and will have to buy their nuclear energy!” Sure, the first bit of this statement is undeniably true as we can’t tell other countries what to do (hello EU…), but sometimes all it takes to change other people’s minds is by leading with good example. So if one country shows that it is possible to survive the switch from nuclear and fossil energy to renewable resources – which is, I would imagine, about as likely as surviving the horrible effects of Y2K – I can’t see why other countries wouldn’t follow its lead. And I honestly believe that Germany can do it since it is one of the world’s most advanced countries when it comes to environmental issues.
And with regards to buying other countries’ dirty electricity: just switch to green energy! Again, if enough people do it, even the big and frighteningly powerful nuclear industry will have to rethink its ways. [Yes, I’m aware that this argument doesn’t convince everybody, but more on the effect of “if everybody did that” some other time.]

“But why make the switch at all?”, pro-nuclear people will say. “Major faults in nuclear plants are incredibly rare, so what’s the problem?” – Well no, hang on, I’m only 27 and already experienced two, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Fact is, there just is no 100% safety when it comes to nuclear energy. There is minimising risks, sure, but sometimes risks are just underestimated. Power plants in Japan are supposed to be built to resist an earthquake of up to 8.25. Too bad if 9.0 strikes – who would’ve thought, on the Ring of Fire! So if 100% safety cannot be guaranteed, I guess it’s time to rethink things. Seriously, I’d rather have one of those ugly wind generators fall onto my house during a hurricane, killing just me and my family, than a nuclear power plant exploding next door ruining thousands of lives and turning vast areas of land into, well, rubbish.

So to sum things up, even though this whole debate clearly makes me a bit angry when I hear what certain people have to say, I’m still glad it’s back on. Although the “nuclearists” are trying to make us believe this discussion is not actually necessary again as “nothing has changed since last Friday, our nuclear plants are still as safe as they were before”. Again, you’re right, but: the amount of fear of nuclear plants has changed. And fear should not be underestimated. Fear keeps us from doing stupid things. So now that we are experiencing almost first-hand what it’s like to face a massive nuclear disaster (whether it may actually happen or not), we suddenly realise that we are in fact scared of this technology. And even though the consequences of a potential further explosion in Japan will probably not even be felt in Europe directly, thanks to modern media we are all very involved, whether we like it or not (to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to show people running for their lives on worldwide TV, but again, that’s a different story). Personally, I believe that you can’t judge anything unless you’ve been through the actual experience. We have now experienced what it’s like to lose control of a nuclear reactor, and most of us are not liking it. So this is the time to act and properly start supporting the use of renewable energies. I know this change won’t happen over night, but still: the sooner the better!

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