Today marks the two year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and as many news reports and blogs remind us there remains a continued battle to repair the damage. My memories of the disaster two years ago are still vivid, if only for the fact that I had a somewhat convoluted and at the same time direct link to the unfolding events of March 11th 2011. At the time of the disaster I was studying East Asian history, a course headed by one of the foremost experts on the rather dysfunctional relationship between Japan and nuclear power. Our class had a seminar with him that day that was punctuated with phone calls from his relatives that we were shocked to learn were actually in various parts of Japan at the time. Every ten minutes we had a direct link to the areas affected that seemed to underline the hysteria and fear that was being replicated in the news on a minute by minute basis. What struck me was how calm these relatives seemed to be, with one even believing that the problems were being blown out of proportion. As we finished the seminar I was quite unsure what to make of the news, was this all being exaggerated?
Within weeks of the first reports of the Earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan the press began to move onto other topics as the era of 24 hour news now tends to do. Yet, even as the focus of attention moved away from Japan the nuclear debate continued in Germany, which in turn led to the rather startling announcement, in the same month as Fukishima, that by 2022 Germany would be nuclear free. Granted Germany had already committed itself to decommissioning its nuclear facilities in the early 2000’s, but what made this so surprising was that it reversed the ruling CDU’s (Christian Democratic Union) 2009 policy to extend the production life of nuclear facilities by 8-14 years. Almost overnight 40% of Germany’s nuclear power stations were shut down, and focus began to switch towards renewable resources.
That was two years ago, almost to the month. Anti nuclear flags still fly but some have begun to question the logic of proceeding with a policy that potentially could see Germany in the throws of an energy crisis. Added to this potential catastrophe is the continued growth of nuclear power in the surrounding countries, namely the Czech Republic. If one of the main aims of nuclear phase out was to protect Germany from nuclear disaster, then this is practically impossible given the proximity of these sites to the German border. Also the problems of renewable energy supply still plague the country with a number of issues over how best to connect the wind farms of the northern coast with the national grid and furthermore the rest of Germany.
The problems are further exacerbated by the growing domestic view that Germany is no longer capable of organising or completing even comparatively minor infrastructure projects. The saga of Berlin airport is continually in the news, with one report estimating that there was upwards of 20,000 problems in construction with the opening regularly being put back. The uproar that follows the construction of Stuttgart 21, the new central station in the aforementioned city, has increased exponentially. With costs sky rocketing it has led to even some ardent supporters to question the logic of continuing the project any further. It’s no surprise, then, that many have questioned Germany’s ability to complete perhaps it’s most complex and expensive project to date.
Despite these worries and questions of organisation it is perhaps important to remember that with its strong position in Europe and even stronger economy, Germany is in the perfect position to take the first steps to a nuclear free existence. Furthermore there is a fantastic incentive for the industry sector to make advances now and reap the rewards when other countries begin to do the same. With Germany as an example of the possible benefits other countries are beginning to follow in their wake. France, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy have all begun to initiate measures to reduce Nuclear output or in the least wean themselves off the dependence on atomic energy. As we look back at March 2011, perhaps there will be some good to come out of such a terrible event.