Germany has a history of being anti-nuclear. Put more accurately: the citizens of Germany have a history of being anti-nuclear. From Wikipedia:
The anti-nuclear movement in Germany has a long history dating back to the early 1970s, when large demonstrations prevented the construction of a nuclear plant. . . an example of a local community challenging the nuclear industry through a strategy of direct action and civil disobedience. . . Anti-nuclear success at [here] inspired nuclear opposition throughout Germany, in other parts of Europe, and in North America. . . Germany’s anti-nuclear stance was strengthened [from the Chernobyl incident]. . . In September 2010, German government policy shifted back toward nuclear energy, and this generated some new anti-nuclear sentiment in Berlin and beyond. On September 18, 2010, tens of thousands of Germans surrounded Chancellor Angela Merkels office. In October 2010, tens of thousands of people protested in Munich. In November 2010, there were violent protests against a train carrying reprocessed nuclear waste.
The people of Germany do not want nuclear energy — they’ve made this abundantly clear in their recent history. An interesting (and somewhat inspiring) bit of protesting that wasn’t included in the introduction of this Wikipedia entry happened on April 24th, 2010.
A Human Chain along the Elbe River: Approximately 120,000 people formed a 120 kilometer-long chain between the nuclear power plants in Krummel and Brunsbuttel to take a stand against the federal government’s nuclear policy. At the same time around 20,000 people demonstrated in front of the Biblis Power plant in southern Hesse. Another 7,000 protesters gathered in front of an interim nuclear waste storage facility in North Rhine-Westphalia.
That is incredible. Seeing pictures of protests/marches at the National Mall can be kind of exhilarating, but a 120km chain of people — that’s quite a political statement. Forget political, that’s quite a statement in general. To be able to gather that many people together (not just in one place), but to span across a distance so great — that’s just inspiring. Moving forward to this year, after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the Germans resolve for a nuclear-free country was reignited.
On Saturday [March 12th, the day after the Tsunami struck Japan], anti-nuclear protesters formed a 45-km (27 mile) human chain from the Baden-Wuerttemberg capital of Stuttgart to Neckarwestheim I. Between 50,000 and 60,000 demonstrators took part, according to police and organisers. [sic]
Three days after the disaster started in Japan, Chancellor Merkel announced a 3-month moratorium, during which the initial plans to extend the life of some of the older nuclear plants in the country would be suspended. The next day, the Chancellor took it one step further by taking the seven oldest German nuclear power plants off the grid (temporarily). Some noted that this may have been a policy-stunt with the upcoming state elections.
While I’m sure that these decisions made the German citizens happy, it clearly was not enough for them. On March 26th, just two short weeks after the event in Japan, over 250,000 people demonstrated together to “demand the irreversible phase out [of] nuclear power.” (Here’s a link to an English article, in case you don’t use Google Chrome/Translate to read the German article.) The protesting continued on into April, with pockets of people protesting in different areas of the country totaling over 10,000.
… And now finally, the German citizens are getting what they asked for — a nuclear-free country. A country whose energy department will never again have to create plans and procedures for dealing with new radioactive waste. By the year 2022, Germany will have all of its nuclear power plants shut down. How awesome is that? Forget for a second where you stand on nuclear energy and just take in the effect that the citizens of the country had on the policymakers of the country. The citizens of Germany did not want nuclear energy. Period. The policymakers thought that this position (of the people) may have softened and tried to open up the possibility for more nuclear power. Upon learning of this, the citizens revolted. Heeding the word of the people, the policymakers had to go back on their plans to increase nuclear energy in the country.
This is quite an amazing feat (to me). The people wanted something – desperately – and now they’re getting it. It seems similar in a way to some of the other things that have happened this year. There were the protests in Wisconsin for union rights and more noteworthy, there was (and still is) the overwhelming number of protests in the Middle East. It has been quite a year for “small groups” of people, hasn’t it? It may seem a bit clichéd, (but it is most definitely not contrived); I wanted to end this post with a quote from a famous anthropologist:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.