Last month, the German government announced that it will close all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. While the rest of the world seems to have just accepted Japan’s nuclear disaster, Germany has declared that it will become the first major industrialized nation to go nuclear-free. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and is the second of the G8 (behind Italy) to take this step.
What i find impressive is that only late last year, the government had declared their intention to extend the lifespan of the country’s seventeen reactors until 2036. It completes a remarkable about-face for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right government.
I want to congratulate the Chancellor for making the u-turn. There are not many politicians who are willing to stand up and say they now feel a need to change given new facts or, in this case, witnessing what has transpired in Japan. Ms. Merkel admits that the helplessness of such a technologically advanced nation in the face of the Fukushima disaster was responsible for her rethinking her nuclear policy.
“We want the electricity of the future to be safe, reliable and economically viable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday after overnight negotiations among the governing parties. “We have to follow a new path.”
About 25% of Germany’s electricity was produced by nuclear power at the beginning of the year (the same proportion as the US incidentally) with energy from solar, hydroelectric, and wind producing roughly 17% of the country’s electricity. To wean themselves from nuclear power, the German government aims to boost its share of renewable energy to around 50%.
Germany boosts a significant grassroot organization of activists opposed to nuclear power since the Chernobyl disaster sent radioactivity over the country. After Fukushima, there has been a swell of people (quoted at tens of thousands of protesters repeatedly taking to the streets to urge the government to shut all reactors quickly.
Last week, Switzerland which relies on nuclear power for 40% of its electricity, announced that it will take its last plant off the grid in 2034.
Europe is making changes while America, ravaged by natural disasters, remains silent. Will our visionary leaders please stand up?
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).