This article was published in the German newspaper “Neue Westfälische Zeitung” on July 23, 2011.
BY DANA HEIDNER-KRUEGER AND REINHARD KARGL
After the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, people in the States were shocked deeply, while in Germany, hundred thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against nuclear energy. While the German government gave the green light for a nuclear phase-out by 2022, some people here in Hollywood had the chills when they thought about how close the local atomic plant (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) is to L.A. However, nobody would have thought about going to the streets to demonstrate.
The only explanation as to why the American anti-nuclear movement has fallen asleep seems far-fetched: after a time of deep involvement in the Seventies and Eighties, it is possible that there was no longer an actual cause, since there were no new applications made for the construction of new power plants. It is a fact that the last power plants commenced operations in the Nineties, the permits, however, were already issued in the Seventies.
Maybe most Americans were raised with less concern for the environment than Europeans. Supermarkets pack their items in small plastic bags, sometimes two or three per grocery, so the customers get overloaded with plastic that later pollutes the environment and lands in the stomachs of fish in the ocean.
There are modest beginnings, like the nationwide grocery store chain, Trader Joe’s (owned by the German supermarket chain ALDI), or Whole Foods, that offer paper bags and let customers who bring their own bags participate in sweepstakes. However, this is only a drop in the bucket compared to the vastness of the United States and its huge population. On top of it, there are experts who doubt the claim that paper bags are more environmentally friendly (to produce a sturdy paper bag, wood and huge amounts of water are necessary.)
Meanwhile, the most common point for nuclear energy in the U.S. is still the supposition that nuclear power plants deliver the cleanest energy and are the most efficient.
One has to credit Schwarzenegger for the fact that he, in his time as governor, did his best to introduce alternative energy sources. After all, he gave California a pioneering role in this regard. It comes as no surprise, because he originates from a country that has been living off alternative energies since the Seventies: Austria receives most of its energy from water power, followed by sun, and wind power.
While Schwarzenegger was governor, tax breaks for solar and wind energy were initiated. And since April, under the new governor Jerry Brown, California is bound by law to produce an increasing percentage of power from renewable energy sources. By 2020, 33 percent of the electricity is supposed to come from alternative sources. However, it seems there is a long way to go until then.
According to information from the Congressional Research Services, the public policy research arm of the United States Congress, there is a renewed interest in erecting new nuclear power plants: about 30 of them could be added to the current number of 103 reactors in the United States.
The course for change is set in the United States, in the direction of renewable, more environmentally (and people) friendly methods. The old dinosaurs of energy regeneration, however, are not extinct yet. Are people in the U.S. able to accelerate the process of outsourcing nuclear energy by mobilizing demonstrations against it–just like it was done in Germany? This will remain a question that will never be answered.
Special thanks to my German colleague Reinhard Kargl, a science and technology journalist in L.A., who contributed to this report with his substantial knowledge and research support.