Director of the Environmental Policy Research Institute
The Freie Universität Berlin
Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs was born in the United States, lived in Japan and the Netherlands for several years and speaks four languages. Since 2007, the 48-year-old Dr. Schreurs has been director of the Environmental Policy Research Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin. She is a member of the Advisory Council on the Environment appointed by the Federal Minister of the Environment. Her research focus includes both comparative and international dimensions of environmental policy. Before coming to Berlin, Dr. Schreurs worked as a professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. She received her doctorate from the University of Michigan and has also worked as a guest professor at universities in Japan.
The Freie Universität Berlin
A Crisis is a Chance
- Energy Supply in Japan -
Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs
(Director of the Environmental Policy Research Institute,
The Freie Universität Berlin)
Pro-Con Nuclear Energy Conflict
--- In Japan, there are certain people who would benefit from promoting Nuclear Energy-related business. When the Ethic Committee set the no-nuclear targets for 2022, did Germany also face objections from people who have enjoyed similar vested interests? If so, how did the committee persuade those people?
In Germany, there is only a small percentage of the population that supports nuclear energy--only about 10-15% according to public opinion polls. The Chernobyl nuclear accident largely eliminated support for nuclear energy in this country. Still, there are of course people who work in the nuclear industry and the major energy companies have a large share of their business tied to nuclear energy. For years, Germany was one of the major suppliers of nuclear energy technologies, thus there are certainly still strong business interests behind nuclear energy. These companies argued strongly against plans for a more rapid nuclear phase-out and criticised the government for flip-flop politics. You have to remember that in 2001 the German government had already once called for a nuclear phase-out by the early 2020s. Then in October 2010 it agreed to slow down the nuclear phase-out and allow companies to operate their nuclear power plants for another 12 years on average. This changed again in the summer of 2011 when the decision for a faster phase out of nuclear energy was made.
So the committee received many comments about why nuclear energy should not be phased out too quickly. The nuclear energy industry also argued that it should be compensated. Most in the committee did not agree with this but we also did not discuss this issue for very long. Our strong feeling was that if a decision to phase out nuclear energy was being made, then it was necessary to look forward and to think about how to make sure a new energy future can be realised that will create new jobs, opportunities and economic competitiveness. It is interesting to note that since Fukushima, Siemens has announced that it will divest out of nuclear completely.
We also interviewed many different kinds of experts and individuals, including the mayor of a town with a nuclear energy plant. As a committee, we all agreed that it was necessary to do everything possible not to stigmatise those involved in nuclear energy and to assure them that we felt the government should provide support to give those who work in nuclear industries a chance to get training to be able to find new jobs. At the same time, we felt that the transition would bring with it many new opportunities and open new jobs - including for those working in nuclear power plants, many of whom are people with skills that can be transferred to other types of work.
In the end, if there are job opportunities, then even those in what is known in Japan as the “nuclear mura” can be convinced that change is possible and indeed desirable.
Message to Japan
--- Finally, you have spent some time in Japan. Could you give us any advice through your experience of living in Japan? What do you think this country can do and should do?
Japan has had a difficult time in the past years with a long drawn out recession and now the nuclear crisis in Fukushima. Crises are hard times but they can be opportunities to learn about past mistakes and to work together towards new goals. Japan is a country with high educational levels, a strong sense of community, and technological prowess. Yet at the same time, Japan has lost touch with some of its traditions. The strong respect for nature and its power that so strongly influenced Japanese history, must be given a more prominent place. The harmony between society and ecology that existed in old Japan has too often been replaced by a search for short-term economic profits.
In many ways, Japan and German are in similar situations. They are two countries that achieved remarkable economic success in the post-war period, but that are confronted by new realities - the emergence of new global economic and political players - China, India, Brazil… This brings unease over the future and uncertainty as to how best to move forward. Both countries’ populations are beginning slow declines and are getting older.
To remain competitive in the future and, to be desirable places for people to live and work, both countries must look to the future, and not cling to the past and old ways of doing things, simply because those are the ways we know best.
Chernobyl began the process of change for Germany. It has been a slow process that has taken many years. It has been accompanied by much societal discussion, debate, and some conflict. But a new consensus has formed in Germany that an economic future that is more harmonious with nature and respectful of its limits is the more sustainable, more durable and more desirable way forward. Much like Germany has learned from the crises of Chernobyl and now Fukushima, Japan can also look back at how it has responded to earlier crises.
Japan became an economic powerhouse in part because of lessons it learned after the oil crisis of the early 1970s. It was after this time that Japan became a world leader in energy efficiency and developed smaller, lighter and more efficient automobiles and electronic products. Fukushima has been a particularly painful experience for Japan. If the people show the political leadership that they want change, it can happen. Japan can take this opportunity to develop a new vision for the future - one where economic development is tied to ecological considerations and where both the power and limitations of nature are taken into consideration.
Japan post-Fukushima has a chance to strengthen its economy and society. Japan could become a leader in Asia and globally, in developing energy efficient technologies, smart grid systems and renewable energy. This could also be a chance for Japan to think about how it can revitalise rural areas, build stronger ties among generations, and get back its historical respect for nature. Economic achievement should not be measured by quantity, but rather by the life quality it affords to this and future generations.
(The first of this two part series was published in November.)