This is turning out to be a really shitty weekend. First of all, there were some very bad health news for a dear relative. Then there was the Japan earthquake and tsunami with an as of yet undetermined number of casualties. And as if that wasn’t enough for Japan, now there is a nuclear reactor on the edge of meltdown.
You’d have to be under 25 not to think of Chernobyl right now. In some ways, this whole on the edge of your seat, “must watch the news again to see if anything has happened” feeling is worth than back then, because with Chernobyl the world did not know about the disaster until several days later when the effects became impossible to hide. Never mind that at the age of twelve, worries about radioactive contamination are not that pressing, because you lack the knowledge about what radioactivity can do. But if you have that knowledge, it’s very hard not to be bloody terrified on behalf of the people in Fukushima.
If there is one good thing to come from this disaster, it’s that the future of nuclear power is back on the agenda, after the current Merkel government postponed the already planned gradual shutdown of all remaining German nuclear reactors by a whopping twelve years. According to the old plan, the last of five nuclear reactor close enough to my home to be dangerous, AKW Emsland would have been switched off in 2022 (the closest nuclear power station, AKW Unterweser/Esenshamm and the one that scares me most would have been gone by 2013). Now we have to wait until 2034 to be rid of the last of the bloody things, unless some future government finds another justification to extend the operation time.
I have lived with an undercurrent of worry about the five (used to be six, but one was shut down) nuclear power stations in Northern Germany for most of my conscious life. Growing up during the anti-nuclear power protests of the late 1970s, I knew that nuclear power was dangerous even before Chernobyl, though I didn’t quite know why. Turns out that a lot of Germans feel that way, because today some 40000 people gathered for a protest near Neckarwestheim, a nuclear power station in Southern Germany.
This is also why I can’t understand why people elsewhere in the world are so blasé about nuclear energy in general and the situation in Japan in particular (read the comments on any non German article on the situation in Japan) instead of being scared shitless and why even rational people tout nuclear power as the energy solution of the future. Yes, we need alternative sources of energy. But nuclear power is not the answer.
Chernobyl should have been more than sufficient to demonstrate that (if Three Mile Island wasn’t enough). But perhaps Fukushima will finally convince the world that nuclear energy is just too bloody dangerous to exploit. Because with Chernobyl, the usual excuse you hear from pro-nuclear-power folks is, “Well, it was a Soviet reactor. They weren’t safe. But it could never happen here, because our safety standards are so much higher.” Well, Fukushima power station is not in Soviet Russia but in Japan, a country which has some of the highest safety standards in the world (which saved many lives on Friday). The safety systems worked, too. And it still wasn’t enough to prevent the current crisis. Because nuclear power is never completely safe. And if things go wrong… well, we’ve seen what happened in Chernobyl.