Our Studio Guest: Felix Matthes from the Institute for Applied Ecology # 15.03.2011 # Made in Germany
One person who's just come back from Japan is Felix Matthes from the Institute for Applied Ecology here in Berlin. Mr. Matthes, you were on the 28th floor of a high-rise in Tokyo when the earthquake struck. What was your experience?
Felix Matthes: It was one of the worst experiences I've ever had in my life. I'd just finalized my presentation and then the building started to swing. And the whole conference room with 200 participants slipped from the left to the right and all the loudspeakers were falling down. It was depressing.
DW-TV: Were you terrified?
Felix Matthes: That's not the right word, 'terrified'. It was depressed and, to some extent, there was no alternative. It was wait and see -- and wait for the next experience.
DW-TV: When did you find out this is the big one?
Felix Matthes: That was the immediate reaction of all the participants, because all the Japanese people who are used to living with earthquakes -- even in such buildings -- said they'd never experienced this before. [They said] this must have been heavier than any earthquake which happened before there.
DW-TV: And what sort of information were you receiving on the state of the nuclear reactors in the quake zone?
Felix Matthes: This information started to be delivered from Saturday noon. Before all the news was about the earthquake, about the tsunami. At noon on Saturday we got the first news that there is a major problem in several of the nuclear power plants.
DW-TV: "Back to our energy expert now...Mr Matthes, the Japanese have one of the most advanced nuclear power programs in the world. What would they do without it?"
Felix Matthes: I think they have frankly the same share of nuclear energy generation we had a couple of years ago in Germany. This share of 30 percent is a result of the situation that Japan is poor in energy resources. So they have focused 1) very heavily on energy efficiency and 2) on nuclear power, but with the reprocessing of nuclear fuel which is the main difference to how we are using nuclear power here.
DW-TV: Now we'd seen a resurgence in support for nuclear power as a clean energy source over the past few years. Is that over now?
Felix Matthes: I think the dream of clean nuclear power has come to an end. There is a risk -- a tremendous risk -- related to this technology, and I think we are facing a further decline of this type of use of energy.
DW-TV: When you say 'we', what about Germany's situation?"
Felix Matthes: I think in Germany we had a major revision of the nuclear policy last autumn when the lifetime of the nuclear plants was extended. I think that will come to an end and the nuclear phase out in Germany will go much quicker than we'd assumed during the last couple of months.
DW-TV: Mr Matthes what do you think? How is Japan coping with the immediate effects of the widespread power outages, for example?"
Felix Matthes: Well, it's difficult to say, because it will heavily depend on the scope of the nuclear disaster. I think there will be heavy economic damage during the next couple of months, but then we will see heavy investments and building up the new industries etc. etc. But the problem is that all of these will be financed by debt and debt will be a heavy burden for future generations, also in Japan.
DW-TV: Well as far as the future goes, does Japan have any alternative to nuclear power?"
Felix Matthes: They have. They have a huge potential for renewable energy, wind energy etc. At least they have comparable structures to those we have here, so they could go the same way: phase out nuclear; increase the share of renewable energies, and increase the level of energy efficiency. There IS an alternative.
DW-TV: So, would you say Japan's gone down the WRONG road with its energy policy?
Felix Matthes: I think partly, yes, because they had huge progress in energy efficiency. But with regard to the energy industry, they relied on these heavy giants which never were ready to invest in new energy sources and that may have been one of the huge problems with Japanese energy policy.
DW-TV: OK, well the debate over atomic energy suddenly heats up again. The search for alternatives, though, has been going on for a long time now. We've seen a huge surge in green energy in Germany. Would you say it's enough though?
Felix Matthes: It has been an ambitious strategy. We have now the goal of the government to deliver 80 percent of power production in 2050 by renewable energies. And if we combine energy efficiency and renewable energies then we could reach at least a fully renewable economy by the middle of the century. That's ambitious and a lot of additional efforts will be needed, but I'm really convinced that the experiences from the last days, especially in Japan, will fuel this trend significantly.
DW-TV: Now we're already seeing a major boost in the shares of those renewable energy companies. Is that a clear sign of what's to come?"
Felix Matthes: The interesting point is that we see new players in the market. And if we see new players in the market that means there is a future market that industry can rely on. That's one of the signs which makes me very optimistic on this.
DW-TV: Mr. Matthes, thank you very much for coming in.
(Interview: Ben Fajzullin)