„A severe typhoon is about to hit Tokio within the next two days. Additional security measures were taken in Fukushima to prevent radioactive water from leaking …“.
March 12, 2011 was a cool but sunny early day of spring in Hamburg, Germany. I was on my way to have lunch with my lover, when a friend called me asking whether I had heard the news from Japan? I had not and he told me about the earthquake and the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. My lover spent lunchtime with an absent-minded partner and for the following days I was like glued to the TV and the Internet, listening to and reading the news from Japan. I couldn’t believe it.
Just like the friend who called me that day, I spent my childhood right next to a nuclear plant. Build in 1972 as one of the first nuclear plants in Germany, people either loved it (because a lot of people worked there) or hated it (because they thought the use of nuclear energy is extremely dangerous). I belonged to the latter. In case of a meltdown, the local authorities used to say, we should stay inside the house. But, don’t worry! This won’t happen. Stay in the house for ten million years until radioactivity will no longer be dangerous, we joked back then. I spent a lot of time in my early teenage years taking part in all kind of political action against nuclear energy.
Years later I got a very drastic impression of what can really happens in case of a severe nuclear accident. In 1983 I spent a year as an exchange student in a small town near Harrisburg and I met a family who was evacuated during the near meltdown of Three Mile Island four years before. „We grabbed the dogs, blankets and some photo albums, put all this in the car and headed south“, they said. „We expected this to be forever“.
The year I graduated from High School, the reactor in Chernobyl exploded. One day, on our way back from school, it started to rain. The rain was radioactive, we had been told, just like vegetables, milk, all kinds of mushrooms and deer – how much and how dangerous this really was nobody could tell for sure. I can still see us riding our bikes home in spite of the rain. It was a weird feeling that we feared something that you could not see, smell or taste. The rain seemed to be the same as ever, and yet it wasn’t. Maybe it would never be same again. But still, those who considered nuclear energy necessary appeased: German nuclear technology is so safe that this cannot happen. Even if a plane crashed into the reactor, no harm would be done. It’s only the eastern dictatorships that are unable to meet our standards.
What else had to happen before people would accept that this technology cannot be controlled by men, we kept asking. Chernobyl cast a shadow over my future that was just about to begin. What would future be like with poisoned vegetables and radioactive rain? Today I know that all this wasn’t half as threatening as we expected, but a close friend of mine still organizes medical treatment for children from the Chernobyl region. People there still cope with the disastrous consequences of the Chernobyl meltdown.
These days, Germany’s political parties are negotiating the terms of a coalition agreement. The elections by the end of September resulted in a majority for the Christian Democrats, but they did not get enough votes to constitute the new administration all by themselves. A major issue of the negotiations is what we call „Energiewende“ meaning the turnaround concerning the future energy supply without the use of nuclear energy. Only a short time after Fukushima there finally was an overall consent in Germany to close all nuclear plants – within the next thirty years if I remember this right. The one in my old hometown is already being „build back“ as they say.