US anti-nuclear campaign buoyed by German opt-out

2nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

US anti-nuclear campaigners are hoping German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try to persuade President Barack Obama to follow in Berlin's footsteps and drop plans for new atomic power stations.

The German proposals, hammered out by Merkel's ruling coalition, will see the country shutter all 17 of its nuclear reactors, eight of which are currently off the electricity grid, by 2022.

Merkel, who will hold White House talks here next week, said Monday that Germany could prove to "be a trailblazer for a new age of renewable energy sources."

Campaigners on this side of the Atlantic agree.

"Germany is setting an example for the world, including the US," said Kevin Kamps from the anti-nuclear activist group Beyond Nuclear.

"We hope that President Obama is open for a lesson from the world's fourth-largest economy."

The dangers of nuclear power were chillingly brought to the fore in March, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan crippled its Fukushima atomic plant, leaking radiation into the air, ground and sea.

The twin natural disasters caused the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

The US nuclear industry has largely stalled since the March 28, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, with no new plants built to completion.

But the United States still wants to expand its nuclear industry, which provides about 20 percent of the nation's power through 104 plants.

An attempt to launch a nuclear renaissance here has faltered, however, due to the heavy costs associated with reactor construction, which the Obama administration hopes can be overcome through government-backed loan guarantees.

But anti-nuclear campaigners say equal attention should be devoted to exploiting other energy sources.

"If Germany can do it, the US can do it. We have much better renewable energy resources than Germany," said Kamps.

Some observers fear the United States is poised to try to build new nuclear plants just as Germany speeds up proposals to wean itself off atomic power.

"We're hoping that Merkel will talk to Obama about why Germany has decided to close down reactors earlier than proposed," said Michele Boyd of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"It is very important to show that you can have an industrial country that does not use nuclear energy."

Officially at least, the White House reacted coolly to the news from Berlin.

"We have a system here that we have a lot of faith in... Our independent regulatory body ensures that we have the safest and most responsibly run nuclear energy industry in the world," spokesman Jay Carney said.

"The president remains committed to nuclear energy as part of his clean energy agenda."

Experts saw it as unlikely that Berlin's decision would hold any sway over US nuclear energy policy.

"It is always a good idea for the US to take stock of what other countries are doing in terms of energy," said Robert Cowin of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But asked if Berlin's plans would influence the United States, he replied: "We see that as being unlikely."

He pointed to the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the last 60 renewal licenses for nuclear power plants.

"The Obama administration has always been in favor of nuclear energy," he said.

Obama has said that nuclear power, with safeguards, is part of a broad menu of energy sources that include natural gas, solar power and renewable energy.

"America gets one fifth of our electricity from nuclear energy. It has important potential for increasing our electricity without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," he said in late March.

"But I'm determined to ensure that it's safe."

The German ambassador to the United States, Klaus Scharioth, said Tuesday that Berlin aimed to invest $1 billion a year in developing renewable energies, which should provide 50 percent of the country's total energy in 2030.

"Investing in renewable energies is a win-win operation -- more security, more independence, more jobs created," he said.

"This decision is an experiment. Some countries may take some conclusions if it works, some countries may take conclusions if it doesn't. In any case, we will do our best to make this courageous decision a success."

© 2011 AFP

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