In the year since the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, a number of countries—but not enough—have sworn off nuclear energy.
Many nations have absorbed the right lessons from the calamity, especially in Europe. Germany, Switzerland and Italy have all committed themselves against nuclear energy. (See Paul Hockenos’ piece for The Progressive on the remarkable German anti-nuclear movement that forced the German government to change its stance, and the lessons this offers for the United States.)
But the reverberations have been felt elsewhere, too. “Kuwait pulled out last month of a contract to build four reactors, Venezuelan froze all nuclear development projects and Mexico dropped plans to build ten reactors,” The Guardian reports.
Indeed, the global impact has been quite significant.
“The number of new nuclear power stations entering the construction phase fell dramatically last year compared with previous years,” The Guardian states. “From 2008 to 2010, construction work began on thirty-eight reactors around the world, but in 2011-12, there were only two construction starts.”
A poll taken last June showed 62 percent of respondents in twenty-four countries opposed to nuclear power, with majorities in only three countries supporting it.
Japan itself has seen stirrings of anti-nuclear energy sentiment over the past year, the first such significant mobilization ever. Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors have demanded for the first time that the country end its reliance on nuclear power.
“On September 19 in Tokyo, about 60,000 people, including refugees from Fukushima Prefecture, held a rally called Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants,” Akira Tashiro reported for The Progressive in the December/January issue. “Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe and eight other prominent figures initiated this rally, at which Oe declared, ‘Nuclear power is always accompanied by ruin and sacrifice.’ ”
The pressure has compelled the Japanese government to promise (albeit in vague terms) to try to get off of nuclear power. As an effect of the disaster, as many as fifty-two of the country’s fifty-four reactors are currently offline due to community opposition.
Unfortunately, many other countries—ranging from the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam to Turkey and Bangladesh—don’t seem to have gotten the Fukushima memo. Oddly enough, South Africa is actually planning a dramatic expansion of its nuclear program.
But China, United States and India—with their outsized influence and populations—are the most egregious culprits.
China at least put a temporary pause in the aftermath of Fukushima, and citizen protests have slowed projects down since then.
India is in a somewhat similar position. The ridiculous U.S.-India nuclear agreement that brought India back into nuclear respectability has enhanced the Indian government’s appetite for nuclear energy. Some Indians have, however, put a crimp in official plans.
“Protests against proposed plants already under construction have intensified in India,” The Guardian reports. “Mass protests and hunger strikes by social movements led to deaths, injuries and riots. Construction of two plants in Tamil Nadu was delayed and West Bengal dropped plans for six Russian reactors following protests.”
Here in the United States, the Obama Administration has been all over the map. It has announced a raft of measure to support green energy, including a plan unveiled Wednesday that contains incentives for cities to build clean fuel stations and an enhanced tax break for the purchase of energy-efficient cars.
At the same time, it hasn’t backed off its enthusiasm for nuclear power. In fact, the first new nuclear project in decades has been approved, complete with an $8.3 billion loan guarantee. This, in spite of a recent Gallup poll that reveals a profound ambivalence among the American public toward nuclear power. A recent Union for Concerned Scientists report chides the authorities for not implementing much-needed safety measures even after Fukushima and excoriates the nuclear industry for using cheap, substandard safety equipment.
The message of Fukushima should be clear to every country: Nuclear energy isn’t worth the risk. The time to abandon this path is now.