Fukushima One Year Later

March 11 is the one year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami which killed between approx. 20000 people and also caused a meltdown in the Fukushima Daiishi nuclear power station.

The nuclear meltdown at a plant deemed safe due to the unprecendented combination of a massive earthquake and a tsunami which knocked out the power for the cooling system also called the future of nuclear power into question worldwide.

In Japan itself, which was heavily pro-nuclear power before the earthquake, protests against nuclear power are growing. What is more, many Japanese nuclear power plants that are switched off for regular inspections are not switched on again.  Nuclear power now only covers 3 percent of the total power consumption in Japan, down from 30 percent last year. The downside is that carbondioxide emissions are rising as well, because there are not enough sources of renewable energy, so fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas have to pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, the Japanese nuclear safety authority still considers nuclear power safe, as this interview with a spokesperson in the German paper tageszeitung shows. The taz also interviews Japanese anti-nuclear activist and musician Otomo Yoshihide.

In Germany, the Fukushima disaster prompted the Merkel government to reverse its position on nuclear power and announce the complete shut-down of all German nuclear power plants until 2022, while expanding renewable energy sources. Today, renewable energy makes up 21 percent of all energy produced in Germany and has surpassed nuclear power, whose share has dropped to 15 percent after the oldest power plants were switched off immediately. Though the government recently announced that it would cut the guaranteed feed-in tariffs for solar power, which would halt the expansion of solar energy.

But even though all remaining nuclear power stations in Germany will be switched off until 2022, there were protests today at several of the remaining nuclear reactors as well as at the fuel rod factory in Gronau which still happily manufactures fuel rods for nuclear power stations worldwide.

Also in response to the one year anniversary, Technology Review, a site affiliated with the MIT, asks what we have learned about nuclear safety from Fukushima. If you think the answer is that there is no such thing as complete nuclear safety, you are mistaken, since Technology Review is largely pro-nuclear and a fervent believer in the power of engineering to solve any problem. But at least they admit that more safety measures and backup systems are needed, which is a start.

Nonetheless, the USA are not just still holding on to nuclear power, they are actually building the first new reactor in thirty years and tend to dismiss the German nuclear fade-out as based on irrational fears, because Germans are supposedly known for irrational fears, even though I have rarely seen people more gripped by irrational fears (The terrorists will get us. Obama is a Socialist and wants to destroy the freedom of religion. Gay people will somehow manage to undermine heterosexual marriages. I need a gun because someone could break into my house and rape and kill my family.) than Americans. The tageszeitung takes on the idiocy of dismissing legitimate worries about the safety of nuclear power as irrational fears in this editorial.

While the US and France still hold on to nuclear power, other countries are more attuned to the potential risks. For example, protests of local villagers has forced the halting of the construction of a new nuclear power station in Kudankulam in Southern India. Even safety inspections carried out by the international atomic energy commission have done nothing to appease the villagers.

The days of nuclear power are definitely numbered, as more and more countries become aware of the risks.

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