Thursday, December 3, 2015

GERMANY TURNS OFF NUCLEAR: The long road to freedom . . . .

One of the most important messages stressed at the World Nuclear Victims Forum in Hiroshima is that everyone should study the example of Germany's decision to go 100% "zero nuclear" by 2022. I think this is particularly important as the global climate summit is proceeding in Paris, and countries are talking about their commitments to cut fossil fuel use, and to find alternatives.

As I've learned more about the situation in Germany, I've come to understand that three factors have played a big part in this outcome: the threat posed by the big powers, soul-searching within a very "bourgeoise" society, and organizing.

"Kill the people and leave the buildings standing"

Germany: caught in the middle
... between massive US and USSR nuclear forces
(Source: Superpower Rivalry p 36)
(retrieved from Sandy's World History blog)
I have a very clear memory of the time when the US was promoting the idea of a "neutron bomb." The idea was that, if the US and the USSR clashed in Europe, the use of atomic weapons would destroy everything. The "solution" was a new type of weapon that would  "kill the people and leave the buildings standing."

The neutron bomb epitomizes for me the larger predicament that Germany has faced in recent decades: atomic weapon-armed superpowers facing each other down, and Germany caught in the middle.

Awareness of this predicament forced Germans to do some real soul-searching. I think it is not unreasonable to compare this to the far-reaching impact of the draft in the US during the Vietnam War: its effects touched everyone in the society.

In addition, I think the neutron bomb concept was a real wake-up call to the fact that there are no good "solutions" that can be engineered by radiation weapons designers. Nuclear weapons is a field in which "brilliant" just means "more deadly."

Step One in Awareness: recognize the magnitude of the threat posed by empires
Kennedy and Khrushchev (and their nuclear weapons) square off
(Cartoon sourced from Vanchai's Modern World History blog)

Finding the inner compass

Growing up in the US as a Lutheran, with German grandparents, I always had tremendous interest in understanding German culture and society.

It is a simple fact that the preponderance of impressions about Germany that a boy growing up in the US in the '60s and '70s had concerned Nazis and WWII. Blame it on Hogan's Heroes, but also TV shows like the oft-rerun segment on Adolf Hitler on Biography, movies like The Sound of Music, The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarone, books we read in school like Diary of a Young Girl and Escape from Warsaw. The single clearest memory of the local library's shelves was the bold swastika on the spine of the mammoth Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. (And that's just the start of a long list of the products of our war-obsessed entertainment, toy, and leisure industry.) Why, even my adorable Volkswagen Beetle had its roots in the Hitler era.

It was an excruciatingly long process for me to learn that there was more to German culture. It was actually when I was in college in the late '70s that I learned in a course with Franklin Ford that Germany had a culture defined by Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss, Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Hegel, and many many more. Of course, this didn't completely answer the question for me -- I still couldn't quite see the forest for the trees.

What I eventually came to understand was that Germany was/is a society characterized to a very great degree by the strength of the middle class, by progressive attitudes, by comfortable homes and communities -- in other words, a lot like the small-town life I had experienced in the US! Words like gem├╝tlichkeit -- and by extension mittelstand -- helped me understand an approach to life that is "not too edgy, not too boring ... not too big, not too small ... just right."

1970 time capsule: Brandt and Grass
(Source: Wikipedia)
I have a very distinct memory of reading a book by G├╝nter Grass during the time I was living in Taiwan (1979-80). The book was called From the Diary of a Snail (how's that for a modest avatar?) and it described Grass' activities helping Willy Brandt and others campaign during the German election of 1969. It gave me the impression that the soul of modern Germany lay not in technology, or in wealth, or in culture, but in the need to step back from the heights of experience and surrender to the always more mundane True and Sustainable.

I provide this extended account of my own path in trying to understand Germany in order to say (a) the experience of the members of German society feels to me as if it has enormous relevance (hope?) for the members of US society; (b) there is a discernible path away from distracted by the things of this world and toward consideration of serious choices; and (c) the emergence of a powerful Green Party and progressive movement in Germany in the '80s can be understood.

It is certainly true that the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident and radiation harm to Germans spurred the success of the Greens. But it is interesting to note that other nuclear accidents (Three Mile Island, Fukushima) have not, themselves, given rise to such strong political parties. The overall context is important to consider.

On Feb. 28, Germany's largest anti-nuclear demonstration takes place
against construction of the Brokdorf nuclear plant on the North Sea
coast west of Hamburg. Some 100,000 people face off with 10,000 police
officers. The plant begins operations in October 1986. It is scheduled
to go offline in 2018. (Source: "Nuclear power in Germany: a chronology")

THIS is what a Green Party looks like!

Germany's Green Party
In 2011, Germany decided to close all nuclear reactors by 2022. The process of arriving at that process has had its ups and downs, involving political parties across the spectrum, but I think it is essential to recognize the momentum given to the process -- and to the formation of public opinion -- by Germany's vibrant Green Party.

The Germans also had an anti-nuke party as of 1980, namely the Greens, who carried the concerns of the mass movement into the national parliament, the Bundestag. No other country in the world has had a force so determined and influential in taking on the powerful atomic energy lobby. The Greens emerged out of the New Social Movements of the 1970s, as an alternative to the Social Democrats who were split on the issue of nuclear power. The environmental party entered regional legislatures during the 80s and 90s, and then finally shared in national power in the 1998-2005 “red-green” government. Pushed by the Greens, the government negotiated a compromise with the energy companies to phase out nuclear power over thirty years.

I recommend everyone read "Why Germans Are So Skeptical About Nuclear Energy" by Paul Hockenos on World Policy Blog -- from which the above quote is taken -- for excellent analysis of how the anti-nuclear movement grew in Germany.

"This past weekend, at midnight on Saturday (25.06.2015), the next
shutdown took place: The Grafenrheinfeld power plant in Bavaria has
been removed from the power grid, nearly exactly on schedule.
(Source: "How far along is Germany's nuclear phase-out?" on

The struggle continues . . . .

Related posts

Upon returning from the World Nuclear Victims Forum in Hiroshima, I introduced 10 of the post prominent examples of "global hibakusha" about which I learned at the conference.

(See NUCLEAR RADIATION VICTIMS: 10 Dimensions of the #GlobalHibakusha Phenomenon)

The enormous irony is that now one country -- India -- is responding to its past subjugation by the Western imperial program with this hugely self-damaging program, and another country that has struggled with its relationship to the Western imperial program -- Japan -- is doing everything it can to aid and abet.

(See INDIA: Lured into playing the "Great Power" Nuclear Game)

According to the Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, "Illinois is by far the most nuclear state in the United States . . . . Illinois was also home to the first commercial power reactor . . . one of the first commercial power reactors to close prematurely . . . . ComEd’s two large PWR reactors in Zion, IL also had to close prematurely . . . . We also have the first and only commercial storage facility for high level waste . . . Besides the 3 plants which closed prematurely, Illinois currently has eleven operating nukes – far more than any other state . . . etc. etc."

(See Chicago, IL: Zero Carbon AND Zero Nuclear! )