In October 2010, the German conservative ruling coalition (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union (CDU/CSU) and Free Democratic Party (FDP)) passed a law permitting the extension of contracts for Germany’s seventeen nuclear power plants. This policy amended a law passed in 2001 by a Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Green Party majority to phase out nuclear energy by the early 2020s. The explosions in the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, however, resulted in a decision to speed up the phaseout of nuclear energy. The nuclear meltdowns in Japan sent hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets. Angry voters made their disillusionment with the nuclear politics of the conservative government coalition clear in local elections. The federal government responded by setting up an Ethics Commission for a Safe Energy Supply, which recommended an end to nuclear energy and a shift to a renewable energy-based economy. Within months of the Fukushima disaster, the government had permanently shut down eight of the country’s oldest nuclear power plants and issued a schedule for the phased shutdown of the remaining nine plants by 2022. In addition, the government reaffirmed its climate change plans, which call for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by around forty percent of 1990 levels by 2020 and eighty percent by 2050. Thus, out of a crisis, the German government is forging an opportunity to become a global leader in the promotion of new renewable energies, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas emission reductions. In Japan, the nuclear crisis has also weakened support for nuclear energy, but with a strong industrial coalition calling for its continued use, both for energy stability and in response to climate change, a complete nuclear phaseout is less certain, at least in the short term.
About Miranda Schreurs:
Director, Environmental Policy Research Centre, Professor of Comparative Politics, Freie Universität Berlin, and member of the German Environment Advisory Council (SRU). The author previously lived in Japan and has travelled a half-dozen times to Japan in the post-Fukushima period in order to meet with the country’s energy experts, speak with mayors and citizens of evacuated towns, discuss energy developments in Germany with Japanese policymakers, and observe the situation in the Fukushima region.