This month the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster marked its 3rd anniversary. The catastrophe occurred in March 2011, when a tsunami released by an undersea earthquake, hit the plant and resulted in a meltdown of three out of six nuclear reactors.
After the occurrences in Fukushima, the German government resolved a distinct transition from a nuclear to a green energy policy. Their first reaction was the suspension of the 2010 lifetime extension of nuclear power plants. Besides this, a three months moratorium on nuclear power for the seven oldest and the “Krümmel” plants has been decided. The latter, has made headlines with several reportable incidents, including three reactor scrams (emergency shutdowns). Moreover, the enacted “energy concept 2050” (adopted in September 2010) now includes an accelerated pull-out from nuclear energy, determining shutoff-dates for the remaining nine active plants, with the last ones having to be decommissioned by the end of 2022 at the latest.
Besides these political changes the government now also took the incident as a cause to reconsider its emergency plan in case of a nuclear accident and purports to establish a nationwide standardization plan. From Fukushima it for example has been deduced that evacuation radius have yet been held to small. As a result all residents within a radius of now 5 km around the plant (instead of 2 km), the so called central zone, are to be evacuated within 6 hours. Also the radius of the middle zone has been expanded from 10 km to 20 km. An evacuation in this zone is supposed to happen within 24 hours.
In addition to this, the supply to the concerned population with highly dosed iodine tablets, which saturate the thyroid so that the absorption of radioactive iodine can be avoided, has been expanded. While it was previously only a circuit of 50 km said to be provided with the tablets, authorities are now supposed to be prepared for the provision of a 100 km circuit. These expanded so called outer zones do now even include the cities of Hamburg and Munich, since two out of nine running nuclear power plants are being operated in a distance of less than 100 km away from those cities.
All these adjustments were carried out based on the recommendations of the German Commission on Radiological Protection, which was instructed to examine the own emergency provisions after the incidents in Japan. It has been stated that the decisions made with the changes are now based on any possible consequences of a nuclear accident instead of its low probability of occurrence, so that precaution has been raised. Also Barbara Hendricks (Social Democratic Party of Germany), Environment Minister underlined that a nuclear accident like in Japan can basically be ruled out in Germany but that nevertheless decisions about civil protection should be made regardless of probabilities of occurrence. Due to the fact that there are several nuclear power plants in neighbouring countries, which are located near the border, she also stated that in addition to the adjustments of the German contingency plan, a Europe-wide standardization plan is advisable.
German disaster management for nuclear cases involves several institutions. First of all the management mainly is the onus of each of the sixteen Federal States, yet in close collaboration with the federal government. It for example gives out “Guidelines for the Disaster Management in the Vicinity of Nuclear Facilities” as well as other instructions concerning emergency procedures.
There are eleven “Regional Radiation Protection Centres”, which come across as control points for queries, counselling, care and observation in case of an occupational radiation accident and they are coordinated by the Institute for Radiation Protection (IfS). Support in emergency management is primarily provided by fire brigades. Furthermore civil protection organisations like the German Red Cross (DRK), the Technical Emergency Service (THW) or the German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) are committed to support; this makes Federal States and – Government depend on volunteer workers, since they account for a sizably part of these organisations. Additionally a supplement of civil protection induced the development of the Analytical Task Force (ATF) and the Medical Task Force (MTF) as two new institutions to yield additional potential. While the ATF supports local incident commands with specialized scientists and – measuring techniques for CBRN matters, the MTF assists medical services in civil protection with special abilities and potential reinforcement, including the decontamination of casualties. But although safety precautions are arranged, it seems like German citizens still prefer the abandonment of nuclear energy in general which is not only due to safety concerns.
A survey of the Ipsos Institute, carried out in 24 countries, showed that in Germany has the highest share of its population opposing nuclear power energy (with 79%) compared to the other partaking nations. The anti-nuclear movement has a more than 40 year old history starting in the 1970s. Just before federal elections in 2009 a spate of mass demonstrations commenced. Thousands consistently took to the streets and especially since Fukushima the public opposition intensified with many demonstrations having tens of thousands of participants involved. In March 2011 for example 60.000 people formed a 45 km chain from Stuttgart to the power plant of Neckarwestheim. Also parallel demonstrations in 450 different cities have been organized, like it happened just two days after the human chain with 110.000 participants and in the same month with up to 250.000 people on the streets.
For the time being, already 19 atomic plants have been decommissioned. In parallel, there are still nine operating nuclear power reactors left, which produced about 12 million tons of hard coal units (SEK) in 2013. Therewith 7,6 % of the primary energy consumption in the country has been covered with nuclear energy in the last year. Since the nuclear power phase-out is now a done deal this percentage will reach the amount of zero no later than 2022, hence enabling renewable energies to take over.