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Nuclear power – “basta”!

March 13, 2011
Abandon nuclear energy now!

"Abandon nuclear energy now!" IPPNW Germany demonstrates in Frankfurt

It really is enough now. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Windscale, Harrisburg, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. When will it be enough for governments around the world to understand that there is no playing with nuclear fire? The moment that Oppenheimer saw the first nuclear explosion he understood the magnitude of this new and awful kind of energy. Now the raw power of nature meets our technical arrogance and is destroying Japan in the form of earthquakes, tsunami and the unleashing of terrifying quantities of radiation. It hardly bears thinking about. But we must think about it and act upon it.

As I boarded the train this morning in Frankfurt heading back to Berlin, an exhausting day behind me, the news was still totally unclear. Had there already been a meltdown or was it yet to come? Would there be more than one meltdown? How much radiation had already leaked out of the reactor that had exploded and how much had they deliberately released to reduce pressure in the core?

In one of the television interviews I gave yesterday the interviewer began by saying „With what we know now about the accident at the Fukushima reactor, what will be the consequences for the Japanese people?“ and I had to ask back „what do we know now? We know hardly anything at all.“ Impossible to answer other than to say, as our outgoing Chairperson Angelika Claussen did: „we need more transparency“. How can physicians even begin to react to a disaster such as this without any real knowledge of the amounts of radiation and measurements of isotopes? It reminded me of Chernobyl where it took days before they even admitted what had really happened.

But here it could be even worse. More than one reactor is affected. Maybe more earthquakes are on their way. Evacuation is hampered by the destruction caused by the earthquake. Presumably medical services are also severely hindered from helping radiation victims and have their hands already full with mechanical injuries caused by the earthquake. It is not over yet, maybe it is just beginning. I fear the dragon has only opened its mouth, but not yet breathed out its horrific fire.

IPPNW Germany was meeting in Frankfurt this weekend for their annual general meeting. By Saturday morning it was clear that we could not continue with our planned agenda. For the first hour or two a small group tried to gather information and draw conclusions from what had happened or might have happened. Most of the media reports were conflicting. We studied the pictures of the reactor and tried to surmise how big the leak might be and whether we were already facing a meltdown. After a two-minute silence, we then separated into groups to decide how to act, how to react. At the same time, our press officer Angelika Wilmen rang the main TV stations and offered them interviews with our experts. The one good thing was that we were all together: Henrik Paulitz, Angelika Claussen, Reinhold Thiel, Winfred Eisenberg – all experts on radiation and health, or on security deficits in nuclear power plants. The media reaction was nothing short of overwhelming. Other doctors were quickly briefed so they could help in reacting to all the interview requests. All of us, including myself, were called upon to give statements, appear on TV or speak to the radio.

Meanwhile the other doctors were ready to take to the streets. Equipped with banners, balloons, and „nuclear“ umbrellas, we organised a flashmob in the centre of Frankfurt. About 100 of us were there, chanting loudly for the nuclear power plants to be shut down. One group shouted „nuclear power“ and the other answered „basta!“ The TV filmed us and people around showed their approval. It felt good to be shouting our frustration and anger. No doubt there will be more actions in the next few days and weeks. What else can we do?

The answer to that question was also brainstormed and ideas emerged. More information on radiation and health in short, easy-to-read flyers that can be handed out on the streets is needed. The call for people to immediately change their electricity supplier to one that only provides renewable energy to the net should be insistent, so that money is cut off from the nuclear industry. Moving money from banks that invest in the nuclear industry, asking „how radioactive is my bank?“ Flooding the government with letters demanding that nuclear power plants are shut down, right away. Calling worldwide for an end to nuclear power, starting immediately with all nuclear power plants in regions were there is any seismic activity. These were just a few of the ideas that were voiced.

It really is time that politicians admit that the use of nuclear energy, both civilian and military, starting with uranium mining and ending with a chain reaction, controlled or uncontrolled – contaminates, kills and causes immense suffering. There have been enormous attempts to cover up the data from Hiroshima and Chernobyl so that people swallow the nuclear lie. It is not safe, it is not clean, it is not the answer to climate change, it does not keep the peace. It is our only enemy and it will kill us. Those who are not killed will helplessly watch the others die and not be able to help them. I do not exaggerate. We are doing exactly that right now, watching the people of Japan – already history’s hibakusha – dying, and we cannot do anything. We can only raise our voices loud and clear and say – basta!

One Comment
  1. John Loretz permalink*
    March 14, 2011 10:06 am

    Bravo, Xanthe, for getting this news and analysis to us so quickly after such an exhausting weekend. In the US the reports have been equally muddled, although there’s a disturbingly familiar pattern: each day’s events rendering less credible the industry’s and the government’s claims that the reactors are under control and the safeguards are working. Today we hear that “controlled” releases of radioactive sea water being used in a desperate attempt to cool the damaged reactors may continue for a year or more, even if a meltdown is averted. We also hear the familiar refrain of the US industry that “it can’t happen here.” I thought the place it “couldn’t happen” was Japan. Mitch McConnell and other industry-paid members of Congress were very quick to hit the Sunday morning talk shows to say things like “we shouldn’t make decisions about American energy policy based on something that happened in Japan,” and “we shouldn’t make decisions about American energy policy during a major environmental disaster.” What impeccable logic!

    Yes, “nuclear energy…basta!” I hope this finally is the tipping point and the beginning of the end of an industry that should have been repudiated some 25 years ago. Anyone who persists in framing the question as “how can we learn the lessons of Japan and make nuclear energy safer” simply has an irrelevant perspective and ought to be told so. The only question now is “how quickly and how effectively can we shut these things down and make the transition to appropriately scaled economies and energy systems that value people over profits.”

    In the meantime, there are millions of Japanese victims of the earthquake and tsunami whose only concern is making it through the next few weeks and rebuilding their lives, and who need our help.

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