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German Election Results Reflect Depth of Public Distaste for Nuclear
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.