Nationalism and Nuclear Energy in the International Political Discourse

Nationalism and Nuclear Energy in the International Political Discourse

 

Nationalism and Nuclear Energy in the International Political Discourse

The catastrophe at the nuclear power plants of Japan last year is still present in our memory: every day we could follow the details on TV of the horrible consequences of the catastrophe; e.g. huge areas had to be abandoned because of contamination, nuclear clouds bearing the risk of spreading the contamination to regions far from Japan. Never before were weather reports, especially wind reports, of such a great concern as after the accident in Fukushima. And even later, when media interest shifted to other events around the globe, the tragedy in Japan continued. Recently, Japan had to close all its nuclear power plants, which produced 30% of Japan’s energy.

Within the framework of its foreign policy program, HBSD organized several meetings with civil society representatives from other countries. One example was the Ani Dialogue II meeting of young CSO members from Armenia and Turkey in July 2011. Another example was the round table on “Pipelines and Politics” at the international conference, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Decoded”, held in December 2011. At all these formal and informal meetings, which were held after (!) the accident in Fukushima, we were confronted with very similar arguments:

a) “It is our right to have nuclear power plants. Nobody can prevent us from possessing this technology and deny our right of development. Nuclear energy becomes a matter of national interest and pride”. If we think this attitude out, it means that to expose a society to an incalculable risk is considered a national right. By questioning nuclear energy, you can then easily be on par with a national enemy.

b) Some even argue that the refusal of nuclear energy is part of an international imperialist conspiracy against developing countries. Interestingly, they do not even discuss in whose interest the very expensive and economically unreasonable technology lies. The direct costs of the Fukushima catastrophe are calculated to be around 50 billion dollars, keeping aside the costs of the next decades. From an economic point of view, nuclear energy is not efficient – even without calculating the costs of such a catastrophic accident.

c) “Nuclear energy is necessary to fill the energy gap; we do not have other energy sources; we are much too dependent on the foreign energy supply; we have to diversify our energy supply and go nuclear”. Interestingly, when asking about alternative scenarios and the potential of renewable or energy efficiency, one rarely gets an answer. Some even argue, we would have to cut off the lights. Although Japan was relying heavily on nuclear energy, the country was able to phase out nuclear energy. It would be worthwhile to examine the examples of Japan or Germany. But instead, without even looking at their policies, new arguments are put forward about why these two countries are so different and the local conditions are not comparable.   

d) Others claim Fukushima will not happen in “our” nuclear power plants, we (will) use better, newer technology, hereby expressing some kind of “national pride” and fully ignoring the fact that the quality of the accident in Fukushima was far beyond all worst case scenarios projected by experts.

As soon as issues are equated with the so-called “national interest” there seems to be a deadlock of thinking. The deep-rooted – and historically explainable – mistrust against “arguments stemming from the industrialized world” is, in a way, instrumentalized to impede further arguments. The question of why nuclear energy companies should be working more in the interest of the developing countries is completely left out of the argument. How such a highly dangerous technology could be in the “interest of a nation” is not even questioned.

A similar deadlock can be observed when debating the issue of the nuclear program of Iran. Here, once again, to possess peaceful nuclear technology is taken for granted and once more defined as a “right”. Even the critics of the regime strongly defend the “national right to possess nuclear energy”. When disagreeing with this logic, as Iran is one of the leading energy exporting countries, I was confronted with the reply: “This is a very German perspective”. Let us ignore the fact that this is not a German discourse. What is striking is that national arguments are even put forward from those who have to seek refuge from their own country. Concerning Iran, one reason for this commonly shared attitude might be the debate about the nuclear weapons program, Iran’s obligation to allow inspections by the IAEA according to the NPT and the sanctions imposed as Iran does not fulfill these obligations. There also seems to be a broad consensus among critics of the Iranian regime on the refusal of sanctions. Furthermore, it is argued that according to the NPT, a nuclear weapons program is prohibited, but not a nuclear energy program. Therefore, Iran has the right to possess this technology program. Insisting on this legal argument seems to impede any critical debate about advantages and disadvantages. Although this juridical argument is in itself correct, the debate about nuclear energy is not a debate about legal rights; it is much more a debate about sustainable energy policies and the risks of nuclear energy.

As the debate about nuclear energy is framed alongside a discourse of “rights of nations”, I would propose to shift the notion in the debate towards the “interest of societies and people”. This might open ways to end the impasse in the discussion and to overcome the mental deadlock. The issue is not the denial of rights, but the search for an intelligent energy policy that does not put societies at risk. As could be seen from Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power plants are not only a risk for the countries where they are established, the effects of nuclear accidents do not stop at national borders. We have to overcome nationalist discourses and think in categories that provide answers to the challenges of global concern, such as energy politics.

For further reading about the debate on nuclear power and armament, we would like to refer to our publication “Myth of Nuclear Power” at www.tr.boell.org  and www.boell.de

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