Most Germans feel uneasy with their 17 nuclear power plants that provide a quarter of the country’s electricity.
In particular, the accident at Chernobyl in 1986 sharpened Germany’s awareness for the risks and made the technology unfavourable; a few years later the building of new reactors was halted completely.
Now, in the light of the accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant, many feel validated in their concerns.
In a country that is seen as a world leader in renewable energy with a highly developed industry and a share of more than 17 percent of household consumption, an exit out of nuclear energy is a consensus across political lines and among a majority of the population.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative-liberal government, however, sees no alternative to the use of nuclear energy as the only option until renewables have caught up.
Nonetheless, in reaction to the nuclear crisis in Japan, Merkel responded in a cautionary manner. First, she announced on March 14 a three-month moratorium on the government’s controversial plan to extend the operational life of Germany’s nuclear plants, which was passed in the fall of 2010 amid a surge of protest.Merkel promised to carry out a “comprehensive security assessment without taboos.” A day later the government decided to suspend seven of its oldest facilities for the duration of the assessment.
On Tueday, Merkel announced the formation of a so-called ethics commission, chaired by the former head of United Nations Environmental Program Klaus Töpfer, with the mission of “finding a societal consensus” on nuclear energy.
“A complete nuclear phase out is immediately doable,” Hubert Weiger, chairman of the environmental group BUND, said in a statement. Most NGOs and the opposition parties agree with this position and regard the government’s move as a tactic to cater to voters’ resentments so as not to lose ground in a crucial upcoming state election.
Weiger claims that eight nuclear power plants are dispensable now and that a further six plants by 2020 can be made obsolete with a reduction in power consumption alone.
To increase pressure on Merkel, numerous demonstrations are planned, including one next month at nuclear power stations on the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl.
As Christoph Bautz, from the activist group Campact proclaimed at a major anti-nuclear rally near Stuttgart: “The ones in Berlin with their appeasement won't get us from the streets. We stay put.”
The good news is that Germans are willing to do their part. In a recent poll, a third said they would reduce their energy consumption and pay more for electricity in the event of an immediate shut-down of all plants.