Nuclear-free energy is not enough for an energy turnaround
by Cardinal Reinhard Marx
At the beginning of this year the world held its breath at seeing the three-fold catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that hit Fukushima. We remember all too well those days, when we waited for news from Japan in the hope that things could not possibly be as bad as had been feared. Six months later, fewer news reports are coming out of Japan, but there is no doubt that it was a nuclear disaster on a massive scale.
Even though the risk situation is in no way comparable with that of Japan, a very heated debate has started in Germany on the subject of abandoning nuclear energy. The events in Fukushima brought before our eyes the fact that extremely improbable consequences could arise, and that the problems resulting from the use of nuclear energy, even in a highly technologically developed country, are largely unresolved. Nevertheless, the energy policy debate falls short if it is essentially focused on fear of a worst-case nuclear accident scenario. While this fear is quite understandable, it should not lead to our fleeing from a risky form of energy supply without any proper planning. Instead, thoughtful and comprehensive consideration of the challenges of energy policy is necessary in order to introduce a reconfiguration of energy supply supported by a broad consensus.
There is no doubt that nuclear energy can make an important contribution to securing the supply of energy. However, the fact must not be ignored that it is an extremely risky technology. In the face of the unresolved problems of permanent disposal and the possibility of large-scale disasters, sticking to the use of nuclear energy is untenable in the long term. The changeover to renewable energy sources should thus be accelerated, and the use of nuclear energy should cease as soon as possible. Certainly, the possibilities of abandoning nuclear energy and assessing its risks will play out differently in individual Member States; meaning that, for the time being, nuclear energy will continue to be used. Nevertheless, global responsibility imposes the obligation to make substantial contributions in international bodies to the safety of nuclear power plants and to the solution of intermediate storage and permanent disposal problems.
But what is involved here is more than simply the question: nuclear energy – yes or no? The energy question is a question of justice. Pope Benedict XVI also points out in his encyclical “Caritas in veritate” that energy supply is one of the greatest challenges to the development of humanity in terms of civilisation. Already today, the overuse of scarce energy resources and the changes in climate due to fossil energy consumption are violating global, intergenerational and ecological justice. In addition, a significant portion of humanity still has no open and cost-effective access to energy. This, however, is what forms the basis for prosperity and social peace. A change of direction in environmental and energy policy is needed.
The fundamental dilemma of climate and energy policy consists in the fact that the parties responsible for high energy consumption and the associated greenhouse gas emissions are not identical with those who suffer as a result. Therefore, the social question of the 21st century is closely linked to the just distribution, globally and between the generations, of the subsequent ecological costs of energy use based on who is responsible. For this to happen, future generations need to have some kind of right to a say in the matter. The Earth entrusted to us by God must be preserved for them, and for all creatures, as a “house of life” with a future. Ways of living and behaving shaped by moderation and solidarity are called for. Lifestyles and ways of doing business must be seriously examined. We cannot remain indifferent to the damage we are causing.
For sustainable dealings with energy and with a view to a turnaround in energy consumption, three avenues should be pursued. Firstly, energy consumption should be reduced through moderation. Secondly, existing forms of energy should be used more efficiently, and, thirdly, a changeover to renewable energy sources is vital. All three require the willingness of every individual. Seen in this light, an energy turnaround is not a step backwards, but rather a move towards a new sustainable idea of progress, committed to a “new humanistic synthesis”, as Pope Benedict XVI demands in “Caritas in veritate”. An energy turnaround is about so much more than simply nuclear-free electricity.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx
Vice President of COMECE
Translated from the original German
On this theme, the Secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference has published Guide 245 “The creation obliges. Pointers for sustainable dealings with energy”.