Eine Erfahrung Aus Tschernobyl
Klaus Topfer on the Nuclear Exodus
The catastrophe in Japan calls us to reflect about the energy concept of our government, ex-environmental minister Klaus Topfer says. Renewable energy is already a “reality.”
[This interview published in: Die Tagesanzeiger, 3/26/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.taz.de/1/zukunft/schwerpunkt-anti-akw/artikel/1/eine-erfahrung-aus-tschernobyl/.]
Taz: Mr. Topfer, as director of the Ethics commission, what advice can you give the political decision-makers on the nuclear exodus?
Klaus Topfer: In many areas acceptance of technology is derived from technical criteria. The effects of technology on readiness to take risks in society play a great role. The question is: do we want our prosperity based on technologies that when they fail have tremendous negative effects that can hardly be controlled?
Wasn’t this ethical question answered long ago in relation to nuclear energy?
These controversial questions have been discussed again and again. The catastrophe in Japan demands peremptorily that we reflect how nuclear energy in the past ended up putting in question other important goals of society. The exodus- and bridging process may not lead to additional emissions of CO2. This also may not put in question the economic competitiveness that is crucial for jobs and has been very successful in export. This must be seriously discussed in a broad social dialogue: how the bridging can be organized so an environmentally-friendly and competitive energy supply can be achieved with renewable energy. Setting up our commission could be a good signal for that bridging.
Do you see a possibility for compromise between the profit mongering of operators and the desire for exodus of a broad population?
I do not see arbitration proceedings between operators and the public as a task of the commission.
Is there really a desire to alight in the government or is this only an election tactic?
That is not my worry. For all participants in this commission, I can say this will not be misused for a tactical election maneuver. A tactical election maneuver would already be over on Monday.
The German government presented its energy concept not long ago. Must a new concept be offered now?
The energy concept of the German government must be revised by the events in Japan and the drama of the collapse of this nuclear power plant. This challenge must be faced. Germany has a unique position worldwide. Come with me to China, India, Russia and France. In no country using nuclear energy is the society agreed that this energy is a discontinued technology. All these countries are convinced – even after the drama in Japan – that nuclear energy is a future technology. Happily this is not the case in Germany. This is also a hard lesson from Chernobyl drummed into our heads. Therefore Germany has become a world leader in renewable energy.
Is Germany an energy pioneer?
I do not like that term. I think we must make a down-to-earth analysis and emphasize that we can gain advantages from a restructuring without nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is not a cheap technology. On the contrary, enormous costs are involved in ensuring security. An uncontrollable residual risk cannot be excluded. Other energy technologies gain a much greater attractiveness. It would be excellent if the work of the commission triggers a wide social discussion, a discussion that is not poisoned right from the start.
Hasn’t this discussion been underway for 30 years?
Yes, but the alternatives must be worked out again instead of waging the old trench wars. A new chance is now given. Saying we alight and proving we can alight from nuclear energy without abandoning stability and prosperity is a necessity. This is also a question beyond our borders and not only for us. If we don’t successfully demonstrate our exodus, we will give other countries a reason for remaining with nuclear energy in the long run.
Do such future projects include the Desertec mega-project that will gain energy from the desert?
Not actively pursuing a realistic technology using renewable energy would be a mistake for a leading technological country like Germany. The technology of solar thermal current is free of risk and is very real and not visionary. In my opinion, it would be reprehensible not to pursue this energy production in Europe and North Africa as a contribution to a stable economic development after the social-political upheavals in these countries.
Has your urgency intensified on the exodus from nuclear energy theme after Japan?
From the first day of my activity as German environmental minister when I had political responsibility, we needed a future without nuclear energy. After Chernobyl there weren’t concrete alternatives for an energy supply without nuclear energy. What opens my eyes and is very impressive in today’s discussion is the fact that much has been achieved in the area of renewable energy. The development and massive use of renewable energy is a reality and not a vision any more. Development in this area occurred much faster in the last years than many expected. Ten years ago no one would have believed we could gain 17 percent of our electricity supply from renewable energy.