Despite the Fukushima disaster many countries are sticking to nuclear power steadfastly. DW's Alexander Freund says the accident marks a breaking point.
Everyone was certain nothing would be the same after Fukushima. The dramatic pictures in the media of exploding nuclear plants, helpless engineers, evacuated ghost towns. For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a physicist by training, the events in Fukushima were a turning point. Even in a high-tech country, the risks posed by nuclear power cannot be fully controlled, she declared "Fukushima has changed my attitude to nuclear power," she said, announcing that Germany would cease to use nuclear power by 2022.
This decision can be considered right or wrong depending on one's view of atomic energy. But Germany is the only country to have made it and has met with considerable lack of understanding across the borders.
In Asia, new reactors are being built and the construction of a nuclear power plant was recently approved in the US. So, little seems to have changed since Fukushima after all.
No more excuses
However, what has changed is that there should be no more excuses. The Fukushima disaster was not due to flagrant violations of safety regulations as in Chernobyl. Last year's accident on March 11 shows that not even the third-largest economy in the world was able to prevent a catastrophe disaster, despite wealth, expertise and painstaking safety measures.
Alexander Freund of DW's Asia Desk
There was a somewhat naive belief among many Japanese that politicians and the nuclear lobby - an unsavory combination that turned out to be disastrous - had nuclear power under control, just as fire had been kept under control for thousands of years. Japanese engineering was seen to be a weapon against even the worst earthquakes and tsunamis.
As it turned out, Japan and the world experienced an incredible amount of helplessness and shameful reassurances. An evacuation plan had not even been made for greater Tokyo with its 35 million inhabitants in the event that the wind would not blow the radioactive material into the sea.
No real change
Of course, many of the nightmare scenarios that emerged in the wake of Fukushima turned out to be false. There was no nuclear apocalypse and only a restricted area will be contaminated for a long time. Nor has there been a return to the Stone Age as Japan's nuclear lobby threatened although almost all of Japan's reactors have been shut down for maintenance work.
There will probably be no real change in Japan's energy policy. The island nation has such a shortage of raw materials that it will have to continue to use nuclear power for financial, strategic and environmental reasons.
Nuclear power continues to split public opinion. However, it is not a question of general principle between economic growth and long-term well-being - these are both possible without nuclear power. It is a question of what we are prepared to subject ourselves and the next generation to and of what risks we are willing to take.
Author: Alexander Freund / act
Editor: Sarah Berning