Hours after pro-nuclear activists from Europe and the United States rallied in Germany to protest that nation’s replacement of nuclear plants with fossil fuels, Taiwan’s electoral commission gave the green light to a November referendum on the future of nuclear power
“We are overjoyed,” said Taiwanese pro-nuclear leader, Shih-hsiu Huang. “If we win, we will immediately ask the government to finish construction of Lungmen [power plant], and allow the other three plants to resume normal operations.”
A victory in Taiwan to restart closed nuclear reactors would boost similar efforts in Japan, which is struggling to reopen nuclear plants in the face of continuing post-Fukushima fears, and in South Korea, whose anti-nuclear president has sought to reduce the nation’s use of the technology.
The mood was equally upbeat in Munich, Germany, where on Sunday over 200 pro-nuclear activists from around Europe gathered at Marienplatz, the city’s historic central plaza, for a “Nuclear Pride Fest” to protest societal prejudice against nuclear energy and launch their campaign to save Europe’s nuclear plants.
“I’m still amazed that it happened,” said Rebecca Lohfert Boas, who runs Ren Energi Oplysning, a Danish pro-nuclear group, on arriving home from Munich. “The creativity and warmth was inspiring.” The Fest was organized by a coalition of 12 pro-nuclear European NGOs.
The victory in Taiwan and the Fest in Munich give renewed momentum to grassroots pro-nuclear activists who helped save U.S. nuclear plants from premature closure in 2016 and restart construction of new reactors in South Korea in 2017.
Cracks are even showing in seemingly uniformly anti-nuclear Germany
Four of the 12 European NGOs that organized the Fest were German, and the day before the Fest another large German newspaper, Handelsblott, acknowledged that “German emissions haven’t decreased for nine years and carbon emissions from transportation haven’t fallen since 1990.” And while Germans attack U.S. President Trump, the paper noted, “in recent years the U.S. reduced emissions more than Germany in relative & absolute terms.”
The day of the Fest, Die Welt, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, published a fair-minded article about the event. “In the past few weeks there has been much talk of climate activists who have chained themselves into tree houses in Hambach Forest to stop coal mining,” noted Daniel Wetzel.
“But now a second group of climate protection activists are attracting attention: they are not protesting against, but for something… the return of nuclear power.”
Wetzel noted that Fest organizers were independent from the nuclear industry, that emissions rise when nuclear plants are closed, and that a recent IPCC climate report called for more nuclear power.
“At the very least Germany could stop trying to intimidate other European nations into shutting down their nuclear plants too,” Die Welt quotes German pro-nuclear leader, Amardeo Sarma, saying.
Not all of the press notices attempted neutrality. After describing the Fest’s “Balloons, painted flowers, trees, and a polar bear mascot named Melty,” Anna Hoben of Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich’s largest paper, called the Fest a “weird event.” She then claimed that “If something happens” at a nuclear plant, “all the houses, trees and cows fall down.”
After noting that the name of the Fest was partly inspired by the gay rights movement’s strategy for encouraging gays to “come out” publicly in order to overcome social stigma and discrimination, Hoben wrote, “one does not know exactly how nuclear has been discriminated against.”
Aside from Germany’s active efforts to close its nuclear plants, and those of its neighbors, the European Union’s renewable energy directive actively discriminates against nuclear in favor of solar and wind.
Inspired by the Taiwanese, some pro-nuclear Europeans proposed a petition drive to change the discriminatory directive.
Nuclear provides 13% of Taiwan’s electricity but would provide 23% if the government allows the re-starting of three reactors in the wake of post-Fukushima fears.
Taiwan’s closed Lungmen nuclear plant which consists of two, GE-Hitachi’s ABWR reactors, is considered “advanced nuclear” because it has 72 hours of back-up “passive cooling” to prevent a Fukushima-type accident, as well as “core catchers” to safely contain molten fuel in case of meltdown.
Pro-nuclear Taiwanese must persuade their fellow citizens to vote to finish the near-completed advanced reactors.
On October 16 Taiwan’s government-run electoral commission rejected the pro-nuclear referendum, claiming organizers lacked the 281,745 valid signatures needed.
The activists went on a hunger strike, and then to court, which ruled last week that the electoral commission must count a second batch of 23,251 signatures. After the commission did so, it qualified the initiative for the November 23 ballot.
“Replacing Taiwan’s nuclear plants with fossil fuels has already increased the risk of death from air pollution,” warned a group of prestigious climate and environmental scientists last year. “Taiwan is one of the 10 worst countries in terms of the percentage of its citizens who are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution, according to an international study published by Yale University last year.”
Taiwan would need 617 solar farms the size of its largest proposed solar farm, the scientists noted, at a cost of $71 billion, to replace its nuclear reactors — a sum that does not include the cost of batteries or land.
Back in Munich, the Nuclear Pride Fest included songs, speeches, visual explanations of why closing nuclear plants increases deadly air pollution, and free banana smoothies with information pointing out that eating one exposes one to more radiation than does living near a nuclear plant.
The day before the Fest, students from Europe, the U.S. and Asia gathered to discuss strategies for saving nuclear plants around the world
At the post-Fest dinner celebrating the day’s activities, pro-nuclear activists from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands debated with good humor over where next year’s Nuclear Pride Fest should be held.
“I nominate the outstanding setting of the largest sea-front square in Europe — the Piazza Unità d’Italia in Trieste, Italy,” said Enrico Brandmayr of the Comitato Nucleare e Ragione.
Activists arguing for Paris countered that over 200,000 people work in nuclear power there, the most in Europe, and that its president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke out favorably for nuclear last December.