I wrote last Fall about how the Germans get it: that nuclear power, in a sane society, should not long endure. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor tried last year to extend the life of the nuclear power stations in Germany beyond their legally mandated end dates. There was an uproar, with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets then and polls showing a swing in support to the Greens and the Social Democrats. Merkel, to her credit, did the right thing in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in ordering the shutdown and inspection of seven older plants and then suspending the plan to keep the industry going beyond its expiration date.
Over 200,000 people turned out in Germany’s largest cities on Saturday to further protest against the use of nuclear power. There were more than 100,000 in Berlin, with tens of thousands more in Hamburg, Munich and Cologne.
More significantly, however, voters were out in force this weekend in affluent and conservative Baden-Wuerttemberg state giving a stunning victory to the Greens and Social Democrats that will likely see the Greens head a state government in Germany for the first time. The issue that tipped the balance in the election was nuclear power. Chancellor Merkel was perceived as being insincere in her switch on the plants. Merkel Loses Key German State on Nuclear Fears is the headline from the NY Times. Although I, for what it’s worth, give Merkel full marks for doing the right thing in the wake of the nightmare in Japan, the voters did not. The NYT does report that at least one of her ministers thought the switch was politically motivated and, shockingly, said so out loud: “As soon as Mrs. Merkel shifted her stance, the Greens pounced on the change as a move to win votes, and late last week, her economics minister, a Free Democrat, confirmed to a gathering of industry leaders that it was a tactical shift.”
In any event, she is sticking with the change of direction, and the change of government in Baden-Wuerttemberg certainly will reinforce that, not only for that state but for the federal government as well and for the broader movement to curtail new nuclear construction in Europe and close down the existing plants. For now, the EU governments have agreed to “stress tests” for the existing facilities.
There have been scores if not hundreds of articles in the past two weeks about the future of nuclear power. For my money, Germany and its people are leading the way.