Photo: In disaster there is opportunity: How the Fukushima disaster is leading to a more sustainable future

In disaster there is opportunity (credit Jun Teramoto via Flickr).

By Johanne Whitmore, Energy Policy Analyst

We often get stuck in our ways, and only after receiving a whack to the head do we finally realize it's time for change. This is precisely what happened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the politically conservative Christian Democratic Union, and long-time proponent of nuclear energy. It seems the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has caused her to question her scientific understanding of the risks associated with nuclear power.

Only last year, Merkel wanted to extend the operating life of Germany's nuclear reactors by approximately 12 years. After the Fukushima disaster, she announced to everyone's surprise that her government will instead accelerate the phasing out of German reactors by 2022 at the latest. And she didn't stop there. She also vowed to slash the use of coal, speed up approvals for renewable energy investments, and cut CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Like many other government leaders, Merkel was convinced that nuclear power was safe and clean. But unlike many politicians, she is a trained physicist and received a doctorate for her work in quantum chemistry. That's what makes Merkel's about-face on nuclear so extraordinary; she has the scientific credentials and certainty to support her views. But, the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan was a game-changer. And Merkel, before anyone else, now understands the urgency of ending the use of nuclear and coal energy to instead embrace an age of renewable energy.

Fortunately, Merkel isn't alone in bringing about this change. Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced he will forgo plans to get half of the country's future energy needs from nuclear power and instead place a greater reliance on renewable energy sources. This change of heart is not only due to the environmental and social costs of the disaster, but also the mounting economic costs. The Japanese government could end up paying out approximately $200 billion in order to cover the costs associated with nationalizing the nuclear company and compensation claims. Kan declared that "there's a need to start from a clean slate in discussing the basic energy plan." In disaster there is opportunity. We hope that Prime Minister Kan's words of wisdom will serve as a hard lesson to all governments, especially Canada's, where we have yet to put forward a sustainable, long-term plan for energy and climate change.

May 19, 2011

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Jun 09, 2011
12:21 AM

Switzerland just voted to slowly get out of Nuclear Energy and implement renewable energy

May 26, 2011
10:42 AM

Thanks for bringing what ever attention you can to Fukushima. There seems to be so many things to distract our attention from the escalating levels of radiation .[link to] ..particularly Reactor 1 in the last few days. The readings are almost off the chart. I have some inside sources confirming the recent escalation in radiation as well….which is “much worse than we thought”.

It seems readings are no longer provided to the public and they are growing apathetic, although some info is available, but no big media is covering it. Could you help with drawing attention to this very important issue, which is the most crucial right now, whether people are aware it is or not?

There was a lot of noise about entombing it in concrete as it worked well enough in Chernobyl 25 years ago. Could the same be done in Fukushima? What are possible solutions? What needs to be done to make our governments resolve this problem? It might be up to us to stand up and take action ourselves to making this a front page item again.

May 22, 2011
2:21 PM

If the energy produced by renewables such as wind is not stored, it must be paired with fossils.

May 21, 2011
2:35 PM

hello. i am posting about dumping of radioactive waste in the ocean/or environment in general. several years ago i read in a cousteau society newsletter of reported incidences of marine invertebrate sequestration of radioactive isotopes in their bodies, with crustaceans within the carapace. my thought after many years is that their may be an odd : ” morphegenetic conditioning or selection pressure imposed by our species upon marine organisms. further, i looked up the postion of some rad elements on the periodic table, and found what i had already suspected. some rad elements are close, in the chart to immune system building, rare earth elements. i thought :” well, possible in the need for gaia to keep a selection buffer for these radioactive elements, someone has to pay the price. then also thought: possibly this tips the morphegenetic scale so to speak; ie. the effected species may indeed have to maintain optimum breeding reflexes under these conditions of morphegenetic pressure, if the personally effected members are adversely stressed, and are gaian write offs so to speak. so possibly they are conditioned to respond to the environment in their morphegenetic developement rigidly constrained somehow to ancestral developement forms. similar to the condition of neoteny, that stephen gould writes of. the developement is in a plastic state to respond to migration of a colony to a new environment. the odd thing is this may explain the giantism reported for anemones found colonizing the rad waste barrels. also could there be a relation, though possibly only from a general pollution stand point, to spawning salmon, reported to be returning earlier in their development cycles? thank you. david

May 20, 2011
3:29 AM

Its OK thanks Ive linked Fukushima and the future of nuclear power now to my website.

I hope it brings lots of interest and hits to this blog. You are also welcome and invited to visit my page for great sustainable environmental information.!/jai.goulding

Regards ,,, Jai ))

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