Nuclear Is No Option

A few months ago, I posted here a compendium of reasons why I live in Germany. Though I’d intended the post as an answer to all those who’ve asked in the past, writing it also helped me to see through the myths I’d taken too seriously (i.e. all Germans are green) and helped me better understand myself in the political landscape here. Because like it or not, politics are a necessity in getting environmentalism to have the greatest impact.

As I reread the post, I realized that many of the things I wrote about had more to do with Germany’s social democracy and less with its green principles – which for an American like me seemed like two sides of the same coin but which for Germans are two very very different political stances. Up until three years ago, however, the two political parties (the Greens and the Social Democrats) were ruling bedfellows, maintaining control of the parliament and pushing through some of the legislation that appealed to me most, including the requirement that all nuclear power plants go off-line by 2020. It was, by most accounts, a Green party measure. But it also benefited the social democrats’ legislative ideas in many ways; most notably, it allowed them to battle long-time unemployment through the creation of thousands of “green collar jobs”.

In the comments to the post, however, someone named Richard said, “I was loving everything you were saying up until you rejoiced at the fact that nuclear power plants were being taken offline. That told me you hadn’t actually done your homework.” In fact I had, and I responded to that, but still, the comment got me wondering: since when did environmentalists start agreeing with nuclear? And then this article, “Atomic Dreams” from The Earth Island Journal fell into my lap:

According to a 2005 ABC News survey, only one-third of Americans approved of “building more nuclear plants at this time.” Nuclear proponents needed a way of convincing people that atomic energy deserved a second shot. Enter climate change. While nuclear power generation isn’t entirely carbon neutral—uranium mining and enrichment require vast amounts of fossil fuel energy—atomic plants are cleaner from a carbon standpoint than natural gas or coal-fired power stations. Posing nuclear energy as a response to global warming seemed a useful way to reintroduce nuclear power to a public that hadn’t been forced to think about it for years.

It’s an interesting read, especially for those interested in learning how a cause du jour can sway public opinion, for better and for worse.