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Catastrophe in Japan - The End of the Atomic Age?

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Japan was struck by the strongest earthquake ever recorded in its history. It was followed by a tsunami, which swept away everything in its path. Rescue workers continue to work flat out, searching for survivors amongst the rubble of devastated towns and villages. Thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands left homeless. The damage is expected to run into the billions. The Japanese people have dealt with the disaster with an air of calm and pragmatism. But now they have to contend with the possibility of nuclear disaster.

At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 250 kilometers north of Tokyo, the situation continues to deteriorate. Explosions and fires have rocked the facility, and authorities have not ruled out a possible meltdown in one or more of the reactors. The world looks on helplessly.

If a highly-developed country like Japan can struggle to control its reactors, many are questioning how safe nuclear power really is. In Germany, polls suggest a large majority of people would like to see the reactors shut down. In response to events in Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel has put on hold plans to extend the life of Germany's nuclear plants. Instead, she hopes to cover more of Germany's energy needs with power generated from renewable sources. Some opponents want to see an end to all nuclear power generation around the world. But their demands are unlikely to be heard.

Russia is planning new nuclear plants, as are China and the United States. It's a similar story in the European Union. After the US, France is the world's leading operator of nuclear power plants and has made its position clear: it's not prepared to shut them down. Nor is it prepared to scrap its new building projects. On the other side of the continent, the EU's newest members have their hopes set on nuclear power to fuel their growing economies. Finding a consensus in the bloc may prove difficult. Nevertheless, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to meet EU and G20 leaders to discuss the future of nuclear power and to push for common international safety standards.

What do you think: Catastrophe in Japan - The End of the Atomic Age?

Send us an email at Quadriga@dw-world.de

Our guests:

Sven Hansen - studied politics at university before becoming a journalist. His interest in Asian affairs began when he was a freelancer working in Hong Kong as well as other centres. In 1997, he joined the Berlin daily the "TAZ", as editor of the Asian desk. He still often travels to the region.

Daniel Goffart – After studying law, Goffart accepted an internship at the Aachener Zeitung. He then joined the staff of the Berliner Morgenpost, where he became the newspaper’s parliamentary correspondent in Bonn. In 1996 he moved to the Handelsblatt business daily as economics and politics correspondent. In 2000 he became deputy head of the newspaper’s Berlin bureau. Today he runs that bureau and heads the Handelsblatt’s economics and politics departments.

Felix Matthes – After studying electrical engineering, Matthes worked as a researcher at the Institute for Applied Ecology in Germany. He then accepted a research position with the German Marshall Fund in the US as coordinator of its energy and climate protection departments. From 2000 until 2002 he served as an expert on a parliamentary committee investigating sustainable energy generation in a liberalized and globalized business environment. Since 2009 he has been research coordinator for energy and climate politicise at the Ecology Institute. Matthes also holds teaching positions in the United States and has published numerous articles on German and international energy and environmental issues.