Nuclear Power: It’s Like Keeping a Dirty Bomb in Your Backyard
In light of the disaster in Japan, nuclear power has been put on trial worldwide. So far the verdict is not in favor of nuclear energy, and Japan’s tragedy could be a turning point and the final political nail in the coffin of a dangerous technology. The world’s worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 is proving hard to contain and has forced worldwide debate on the benefits and dangers of nuclear energy. The fact that nuclear-power plants should never be built in seismic areas should no longer be up for debate, but other parts of the discussion over the viability of nuclear energy remain wide open. On one hand, the Green movement, with Greenpeace in the lead, argues that nuclear-power plants can never be made completely safe despite improvement in design. On the other hand, the nuclear industry claims new plants can be safe as opposed to older plants like those that failed in Japan.
The Push for Global Nuclear Regulations
On Thursday, as Japan came under international pressure from the UN to extend the evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. President Sarkozy urged the international community to create a new global nuclear regulation by the end of 2011. Mr. Sarkozy is the chairman of the G20, and in this capacity said that France wanted to host a meeting on comprehensive nuclear regulation in May. He was the first world leader to visit Japan since the earthquake and tsunami devastated part of the island. On Tuesday, France announced it was sending nuclear experts from the French nuclear company Areva to the Fukushima plant, at the request of Japanese authorities.
Areva is a state-controlled company and the world leader in nuclear-power technology. Needless to say, Mr. Sarkozy’s trip to Japan was motivated, not only by a humanitarian desire to help Japan, but also a salesman’s effort on the behalf of Areva to argue that nuclear power can be safe. Since Japan’s tragedy, several international contracts, involving Areva’s, to build new nuclear-power plants have been put on hold, as nuclear power is rapidly loosing political traction.
Japan’s Tragedy: Helping the Worldwide Green Movement Become a Major Political Force
The first international political consequences of Japan nuclear crisis happened in Germany last Sunday. Fears over Japan’s nuclear nightmare have already delivered a crushing political defeat to Chancellor Merkel’s conservative party, as the anti-nuclear Greens won a historic victory: a record 24 percent of the vote, more than 12 percent higher than in 2006. They are now well positioned to lead a coalition with the Social Democrats for the very first time.
The elections in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg were a referendum on the future of atomic energy, and at least for Germans a decision was made: they do not want nukes. The natural disaster in Japan triggering the man-made disaster at the Fukushima plant was the most decisive issue in the state election. Germans do not want nuclear power, and this political drive is likely to be contagious despite Sarkozy’s efforts to peddle the notion that nuclear power can be safe.