Interview With German Greens Leader: Berlin's Nuclear Policy 'Cynical and Immoral'
Greens leader Claudia Roth has criticized the German government's response to the nuclear crisis in Japan and says the safety of reactors will be an issue in an important regional election in the state of Baden-Würrtemberg on March 27. "This will politicize the election," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Roth, Environment Minister Röttgen of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) und Foreign Minister Westerwelle of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) stated on Saturday that now is not the time to revive the debate over nuclear power and that the focus should be on the victims of the tsunami disaster in Japan. Do you agree?
Roth: It's not surprising that the nuclear lobby in the government is closing its eyes, it's expressing condolences but otherwise doesn't want to take any action. Of course we thought hard about whether we could still participate in the human chain, long-planned as a protest against nuclear power, on Saturday, in light of the events in Japan. In the end, with a great deal of reflection, we did.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What significance will this have for the state parliament elections in Baden-Württemberg on March 27?
Roth: It's our view that the occurrence in Japan shouldn't be used in the Baden-Württemberg elections. But the way Röttgen and Westerwelle are expressing concern over Japan, while trying to stifle debate here at home, is unacceptable. The dramatic events in Japan demonstrate that nuclear power can't be controlled completely, even if nuclear power plants are equipped for every conceivable occurrence, as in Japan. Nuclear power is not 100 percent safe, which makes it highly dangerous. It's extremely irresponsible for the environment minister to make knee-jerk announcements that we're in no danger and everything here is safe. That's a cynical and unethical policy.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think the nuclear reactor disaster in Japan will give a further boost to the Green Party, which is already doing well in Baden-Württemberg?
Roth: The Chernobyl disaster didn't immediately lead to election victories for us. I believe people differentiate between the consequences of a natural disaster and what they expect of a regional government. But the question of whether the nuclear lobby's policies being pursued by Baden-Württemberg governor Stefan Mappus will provide a secure future for the state -- that will certainly play a role. Mappus is one of the main people responsible for extending the lifespan of Germany's nuclear plants. But Baden-Württemberg's future lies in sustainable technology and renewable energy. This will politicize the election. And the election isn't over yet -- it remains a neck-and-neck race.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The reversal of Germany's initial decision to phase out nuclear power seems set in stone. Do you see any opportunities for compromises that would shut down at least the oldest plants? Or do you remain fundamentally opposed to any nuclear power?
Roth: I'm against the decision to reverse the phaseout. The extension of nuclear lifetimes was solely driven by the nuclear lobby's interests, which are worth billions. Now it's up to the German government to explain how it will ensure our safety here. The government should have no illusions about how broad-based the opposition to nuclear energy is, from trade unions to citizens' initiatives to churches. The reactor in Neckarwestheim, in Baden-Württemberg, was supposed to be shut down in January, but the federal and state governments want to keep it running another eight years. With such an ancient facility, that's dangerous and irresponsible.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what does this have to do with the state parliament elections?
Roth: The state parliament elections in Baden-Württemberg absolutely play a role in this context. Mappus' overly expensive purchase of the utilities company EnBW makes the state the owner of the plant. That lays the foundation for a future regional government to shut it down.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You were at an anti-nuclear demonstration on Saturday, when an explosion damaged the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant, which had been affected by the tsunami.
Roth: Yes, and the terrible news fell over the event like a shroud of grief and horror -- but also of anger at policies that place so little value on human safety.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Eyewitnesses relate that participants at the event performed a wave in the crowd. That seems out of place, considering the tsunami in Japan.
Roth: I didn't see that. It didn't happen where we were, but I did see many people who were upset, some wearing black bands on their arms or wrists. If people really performed a wave, I think that's utterly impossible and completely inappropriate.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did that day remind you of the catastrophe at Chernobyl?
Roth: Absolutely. I was spokeswoman for the Green Party then, in 1986, and on Saturday I immediately remembered how difficult it was to get information back then. I also remembered how people called us scaremongers and claimed that this was a Socialist junk reactor that had blown up, while the Western models were secure. Now catastrophe has struck again -- in the high tech country of Japan.
Interview conducted by Yassin Musharbash
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