Losing one's car keys is stressful enough, but it's nothing compared to the stress that a German nuclear power plant manager must have felt when he realized that he couldn't find the keys to the plant's secure area.
"Sorry, we can't get to the nuclear reactor at the moment. The keys are gone."
Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with political and industry leaders to discuss the country's energy needs. Everybody agreed that it was vital for Germany to reduce its reliance on energy imports. The country's big energy companies had pledged billions of euros of investment in the sector, and Merkel said her government would set aside two billion euros for funding innovative energy research in the next two years.
Although Germany is set to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2020, industry leaders and some members of Merkel's Christian Democrats have been calling for an extension of that deadline. So far, Merkel has been relentless in defending her coalition agreement with Social Democrats on the nuclear phase out. But even if she had any doubts about that agreement, she should have them no more.
Next time some overzealous nuclear power aficionado starts bothering her, she'll be able to throw an unbeatable argument in his face: The government can surely pump up billions of euros into energy research, and even try to increase the safety of nuclear power plants, but it cannot, under any circumstance, prevent people from losing their keys. What would actually happen if the manager of a nuclear power plant got locked out of his own nuclear reactor? Did you ever think about that?
"This has never happened in Germany before."
On the same day on which Merkel discussed Germany's energy plans, the environment ministry of the south-western German state of Baden-Württemberg announced that 150 locks had to be changed at a nuclear power plant in the town of Philippsburg after the plant owner reported that the keys to a security area had gone missing.
Unfortunately for the power plant manager, St. Zita, the patron saint of lost keys, was unavailable for consultation. She was probably too busy advising people -- many of whom come to her on a regular basis -- to dive into their laundry baskets or crawl under their beds, hunting for those ever-elusive car keys. Maybe the operator at the celestial switchboard misdirected the call. Or maybe she got the message, but thought that she must have misunderstood it. Seriously, how could anybody misplace the keys to a nuclear power plant?
In any case, an extensive search-and-rescue mission for the 12 coveted keys produced no result.
"This has never happened anywhere in Germany before," said spokesman for the Baden-Württemberg environment ministry. "The keys have simply disappeared."
So it's probably not a good idea to keep the nuclear power plants in Germany for much longer, after all.