At the final shutdown of Germany’s last active nuclear power plants on Saturday, I was reminded of that song written by John Hiatt. “I don’t know who they think they are / Totally smash good guitar“.
Admittedly, it’s probably a bit of an exaggeration to call these power plants “just fine,” but they certainly could have lasted for years if there had been enough political will to regulate this in time. Still, the fact that power plants will now shut down, at a time of great uncertainty about climate change and energy security, is grim. Just like the cruelty of smashing a beautiful guitar.
It is no exaggeration to regard the completion of the phase-out of nuclear weapons in Germany as a historic moment. This turning point does not seem to have been cause for great celebration: the green movement is shouting from the rooftops its anti-nuclear victory, but it is about the only victory. Just as in Belgium, the majority of the population in Germany realized that it was a little crazy to refuse a large and available source of fossil-free energy at this crucial moment. Just as in Belgium, this realization reached the political majority too late to change course permanently.
Environmental critics have their point when they argue that nuclear power is not the go-to solution its proponents sometimes make it out to be. In the Netherlands, a group of experts warned the government only this week to reconsider whether the planned construction of new power plants is the right investment. However, the lack of nuance in the highly polarized and politicized debate over (nuclear) energy is due precisely to the current situation. A highly questionable policy choice has become almost inevitable in Belgium, too. This is frustrating.
The central point remains that it would be insane to voluntarily shut down a major energy source that does not contain carbon dioxide2 emissions which can guarantee the local energy supply. Combined with renewable energy, limited nuclear capability could make zero emissions a reality. In Germany, the nuclear exit must be compensated for, among other things, by keeping open coal-fired power plants, importing nuclear power from abroad, and importing American shale gas. This is hypocrisy to say the least.
But perhaps the worst outcome of the exit is that initial steadfastness/intransigence about nuclear power has dealt a huge blow to climate anxiety as a widely shared social concern. People are not stupid. They have seen that even environmentalists, when it comes to push, put ideological platitudes above climate gains.
this is very unfortunate. There is no misunderstanding: climate change will force us to make major changes in society and the economy. This is necessary, and this is possible, without creating a social wasteland. But a government that shuts down nuclear power plants will have a hard time convincing the population of this necessity.
“Total coffee specialist. Hardcore reader. Incurable music scholar. Web guru. Freelance troublemaker. Problem solver. Travel trailblazer.”