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Opinion: Nuclear energy has outstayed its welcome

While the full extent of the damage to Japan's nuclear reactors has not been assessed, the debate about atomic energy has been reignited. Deutsche Welle's Judith Hartl says nuclear power should be phased out - and fast.

Opinion graphic

The nuclear crisis in Japan will change the world we live in for good, because it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt how dangerous and unpredictable nuclear energy is. Yes, we can control nuclear fission. Yes, we know how atoms operate and what we need to do to use them to generate vast amounts of energy.

But we also know now that experts, nuclear physicists and politicians are alarmingly helpless when a plant is under threat. Suddenly, a feeling of powerlessness takes hold, and we can only hope that there is no total meltdown of a reactor.

And the argument that Japan knows it's sitting on a ticking tectonic time bomb, and that there are no earthquakes to speak of in Germany, is far too easy. What about airplanes that could crash over a nuclear power station, a terrorist attack, a simple technical failure or human error?

Science Editor Judith Hartl

Judith Hartl thinks it's high time we phased out nuclear energy

But it's not just those horror scenarios that should ring alarm bells, it's also the atomic waste we don't know what to do with that poses a big problem. So far, despite our best efforts, no one anywhere in the world has found an appropriate permanent nuclear storage facility.

Do we really want to keep taking that risk, although we have viable alternatives? Solar and wind energy for example? Renewable energies that are sustainable and harmless. Energy sources that we could use to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

We have to start investing in these energies on a grand scale. They're not just a green dream. No, they symbolize a clean, sustainable and technically advanced society.

Nuclear energy, on the other hand, has become obsolete. It's dirty, dangerous and wastes resources, as the reactor's main fuel source, uranium, will run out in about 50 to 60 years, according to experts.

Is that sustainable? The only people who still believe that are nuclear lobbyists and energy company executives, who make a lot of money from nuclear energy and have a huge impact on politics.

But the disaster in Japan has hopefully served as a wake-up call for the political elite. Now politicians have to demonstrate courage, break old habits and invest in technologies and energy sources of the future.

Author: Judith Hartl, Deutsche Welle Science Editor / ng
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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