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German Election Results Reflect Depth of Public Distaste for Nuclear

Posted by Morgan Pinnell on March 29, 2011

The German public sent a strong message to policymakers in state elections on Sunday as conservative stronghold Baden-Wuerttemberg went to a coalition of the Green Party and Social Democrats (SPD) as opposed to Chancellor Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrat (CDU) party, which has held the state for six decades.  A strong percentage of voters said that the Fukushima crisis figured prominently as they cast their votes.  Germany has been in a de facto nuclear moratorium for decades, but with Merkel’s 2009 election, the CDU began proposing measures to extend the life of aging German reactors and struck an increasingly pro-nuclear pose. This election can be seen as nothing less than a repudiation of the nuclear policies of the CDU. 

Now, in the wake of Fukushima and these negative election results, Merkel is hoping to make a U-turn.  She has called for a 3 month shutdown of Germany’s 17 reactors to do safety evaluations and for a plan to shift Germany to a clean, renewable energy future.  These elections may speed the pace of that proposal. 

It is interesting to watch an election where the consequences of this horrendous nuclear crisis in Japan are so visible.  Cause – Effect.  In the United States, public opinion is shifting away from new nuclear reactors and subsidies for reactors while the public and the media are learning about the aging US reactors, earthquake zones, plutonium fuel and Mark I reactor designs.  The economics of nuclear reactors are as dismal as ever (and likely to get worse in the wake of this crisis) making them less likely to be built.  Yet many elected officials have remained steadfastly wedded to the idea of a nuclear future.  The nuclear industry has spent millions in lobbying to keep things this way and is currently making the rounds at break-neck pace on the Hill. The Nuclear Energy Institute, the main lobbying group for the industry spent $3.76 million to lobby the federal government and an additional $323,000 through its PAC on a bipartisan congressional slate in the last two election cycles.  Exelon, the largest nuclear utility contributed $515K to multiple candidates in the 2010 election cycle, while competitors Entergy, Duke, and Florida Power & Light gave $400K, $475K, and $507K respectively.

President Obama insists that he’ll continue his support for new reactors in the form of $36 billion in nuclear loan guarantees. He has authorized a 90-day review of US reactors by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an agency in which the public does not have much confidence. It is also implausible that a thorough review and “lessons learned” can be implemented in three months when the Japanese crisis is still ongoing and information from Japan is contradictory and unreliable.  Justifiably, Germany took Japan’s nuclear crisis as a wakeup call.  The US must do so as well.

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