The Italians, to whom it was asked if the return of nuclear power was viable given the costs, the time factor and the risks, in their great majority and for the second time in a quarter century, definitely excluded this eventuality.
This second “no” to nuclear power requires a vast reflection not limited to managing the immediate problems posed by the referendum. It isn’t sufficient to remind those that exercise government responsibilities or are in the energy sector of the absolute urgency of a plan to develop alternative and renewable energy sources. There must be a realisation that radical changes in behaviour, coherent with the choice that has just been made, is a civic duty and that it must be done in a much more efficient manner than in the past. Not sorting household waste, wasting water, overuse of cars, overheating or overcooling of buildings are a few of the habits that must be phased out in conjunction with Italy’s nuclear power plants.
And it will be useful to imagine what awaits future generations on whom today’s decisions will weight. We could be proud of being the first country to say no [in a 1987 referendum] and which repeated it, thus reinforcing a choice that today is close, on the cultural and strategic front to Germany – and Switzerland – and thanks to which we are a little less influenced by France, with whom we recently signed a sort of technological and industrial nuclear pact. One must note that Germany’s choice is not dictated only by a fear of the present or by an intellectual angst rooted within its own history. It’s a country that before bidding adieu to nuclear power has been investing, for at least the past twenty years, in renewable energy and which has seen employment in the sector double in the past eight years. In terms of experience and industrial strategy, this may be useful to take into account.
A nuclear-free Europe is a utopia
Concerning France, despite its 58 reactors and its projects for next generation plants, one must remember that after Fukushima and the German decision, a high percentage of French people said they were in favour of reviewing France’s nuclear policy. Although, after the Japanese disaster, President Sarkozy reaffirmed General de Gaulle’s historic choice, he had at the beginning of his term, created a major Environment Ministry responsible for expanding renewable energy sources and reducing the country’s dependence on nuclear power. A conservative, like Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy understands that “renewable” is also an economic sector and that the environment and anti-nuclear movements are serious risks to traditional parties. The French Green Party was able to insert the nuclear energy question into their coalition platform with the Socialists (who are largely pro-nuclear) for the 2012 [presidential and legislative] elections.
In energy matters, national strategic choices are and will remain dominant in Europe’s overall view, but if two industrial powers such as Germany and Italy, members of the G8 and founding members of Europe, abandon nuclear power, it is not illusory to think that this choice will strongly incite change and will have a major influence on public opinion in other countries. Neither is it a daydream to imagine that this choice will spread someday to the entire Old World thus reinforcing the leadership on the international scene of a Europe, which, on issues of climate and the environment, is already a step ahead of the rest of the world.
This would eliminate an objection that has long weighed on the debate, that is that it’s impossible to give up the atom as long as there are nuclear plants on the border. A nuclear-free Europe is a utopia, but the cultural revolution has begun and it could well be on the horizon in a few decades. Perhaps the distinction between the civilian and military uses of the atom will no longer be relevant, or vital. Neither should we forget that a positive outcome for renewable resources depends – as does a positive outcome for peace, for immigration and for raw materials – on developing the most fecund and constructive relations possible with the southern shores of the Mediterranean; today on the uncertain path to democracy. It’s not only a question of Libyan oil or Algerian gas but of sun and of desert which are the resources of the poor and an important part of our future.
Paris increasingly isolated
Paris is unhappy with Germany’s plan to phase out nuclear power, points outFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, noting that France’s Minister for Industry and Energy Eric Besson is demanding European negotiations on the consequences of this national decision. The German position has put the French government under pressure: 62% of France’s citizens also want to phase out nuclear over the next 25 years, while President Sarkozy is clearly committed to this energy source. At the end of March, Franco-German demonstrations to demand the closure of the Fessenheim power station in Alsace [the oldest French nuclear reactor which is located on a geological faultline] demonstrated that there is now a cross-border anti-nuclear movement. The issue of energy could exert a dominant influence on French presidential elections in 2012, remarks Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.