It is interesting to see how many of the debates of the 1980s on nuclear power are slowly coming back to the fore. Furthermore, the same irrationalities in dealing with risks are coming back on to the agenda. Since nuclear risks mainly exist in the individual’s perception, the debate over the last two weeks has been a splendid laboratory in understanding the social construction processes of reality.
One of the more surprising comments to read came from long-time environmental activist and commentator George Monbiot. In his regular column in The Guardian he shocked many with a relatively straightforward plea in favour of atomic energy. Mostly on the grounds of it being more climate friendly than coal. While his arguments are worth listening to it was surprising how he made his case: even taking the Chernobyl disaster into account, he argued that far fewer people died from nuclear power so far than will potentially do so in the future from global warming.
The interesting point here is not so much this weighing-against-each-other of life, disease and hazards but the fact that in the second decade of the new millennium, one crucial difference to the debate in the 1980s is visible: the spectre of global warming. The way we evaluate and compare these risks largely depends on our subjective evaluation. Monbiot in the British Isles probably has a very different recollection of the Chernobyl disaster than, say, people in Continental or Eastern Europe.
Arguably the country where the Japan disaster has caused the biggest ripples for business and politics is Germany. Not only did Physics-PhD and staunch nuclear supporter Angela Merkel announce immediately a 180-degree turnaround in the nation’s policy on nuclear energy. This was enough to anger large parts of the German business community. It did not help that her Economics minister Rainer Brüderle told industry leaders in a meeting that this was just ‘electoral tactics’ – a comment promptly leaked to the public and leading to his resignation from his role in the Liberal Party FDP.
The biggest winners of the debate in Germany currently are – to no surprise – the Greens. For the first time in history, they have scored enough votes to gain power in one of the most important states (Baden-Württemberg) in the southwest of Germany. The Green party now for the first time leads a state government and Germany has its first Green state premier. And this in one of the most conservative and industrious states of Germany, home to many crown jewels of German business, including Mercedes and Porsche. According to many commentators it was mostly the nuclear topic which swung voters to turn out for the Greens.
Photo by spacepleb