Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nuclear fallouts

These last weekshave been, if anything, exciting times for anybody interested in the mechanics of international news cycles. While the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan were continuing to unfold, the new war in Libya seemed to dominate the headlines for a few days. Now, with more bad news from Japan the topic seems to be back on the agenda.

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 Br├╝derle 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-W├╝rttemberg) 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.

Funny enough, our own comments on this blog attracted some interesting attention from the media. We gave a couple of interviews recently – interestingly enough mostly for Chinese and Indian TV stations. Click on the clip (for Omni 2, a Canadian Chinese language program) – it is curious to see what journalists find worth quoting. It was probably the most trivial and banal thing we said in an interview which went on for more than 30 minutes. Which brings us back to news cycles. What a funny world we live in...

Photo by spacepleb. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

1 comment:

  1. They may have quoted the most banal thing you said in that interview but they dut to the most important thing - your Routledge textbook!


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