Photo: Heinz-Josef Lücking
Switzerland recently rejected a motion to abandon nuclear energy.
Nuclear power took a massive dive in popularity following the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi disaster, though it’s remained an effective form of modern energy. Countries ranging from Japan to the Czech Republic garner anywhere between two and 35 percent of their electricity from nuclear sources, while Ukraine, France and Spain generate more than half. Even the United States has room for nuclear power, with approximately 19 percent of its electricity deriving from local reactors.
President-elect Donald Trump has expressed interest in revamping America’s nuclear energy program. In an interview with Neil Cavuto of Fox News, Trump explains, “I’m in favor of nuclear energy, very strongly in favor of nuclear energy. You know, it’s sort of interesting. Somebody was explaining if a plane goes down, people keep flying. If you get into an auto crash, people keep driving. There are problems in life. Not everything is so perfect. You have to look very carefully though, at really taking care. Have the best, best people in terms of safeguards for nuclear energy, but we do need nuclear energy, and we need a lot of it fast.”
Had attempts to change Switzerland’s nuclear program emerged successful, the country’s final plants would have closed by the year 2029, but fear of energy dependence still holds a tight grasp, and in the end, it was 45 percent “yes” votes against 55 percent “nay.”
“We would have liked to win, that’s clear,” says Regula Rytz of Switzerland’s Green Party. “But 45 percent for ‘yes’ is a good result. The problems haven’t been resolved with this referendum. We will keep at it on safety, on financial security… and on expanding renewable energies.”
Nuclear power does offer its fair share of advantages. Unlike standard fossil fuels and crude oil, nuclear power does not produce methane or carbon dioxide. It is also affordable, easy to transport, and comes in unlimited supply, but when disaster strikes, the aftermath can be brutal and long-lasting. Children born as far east as California are now 28 percent more likely to experience thyroid cancers due to Fukushima radiation exposure.
Greenpeace released a disaster report earlier this year, explaining that mass DNA mutations were occurring in local wildlife. Kendra Ulrich, senior nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace Japan says, “The government’s massive decontamination program will have almost no impact on reducing the ecological threat from the enormous amount of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Already, over nine million cubic meters of nuclear waste are scattered over at least 113,000 locations across Fukushima prefecture.”
The report states that the environmental effects could last decades or even centuries, while officials claim cleanup costs could eventually spike to $180 billion.
Historians also remember Chernobyl in 1986. A hurried stress test forgoing proper protocols resulted in a steam explosion that left the city an ash-laden ghost town for several years. Approximately 13,000 fatal cases of radiation poisoning and cancer have emerged from the disaster, while many children born to former plant workers have experienced prenatal deformities. A shelter has since been placed over the respective site, which one expert described as closing a “nuclear wound.”
For now, Switzerland is planning to continue its use of nuclear power.
“We’re very happy Swiss voters are giving such an explicit result,” says Heinz Karrer, president of pro-business group Economiesuisse and advocate of Switzerland’s nuclear program. “People don’t want a radical solution. It would have caused uncertainties about our energy supply, something Swiss people were unwilling to risk.”