Geopolitics

After Fukushima. The Price Of A Rash Switch To 'Nuclear-Free'

After Fukushima. The Price Of A Rash Switch To 'Nuclear-Free'

Editorial: In Germany, the clamor for a rapid end to nuclear power ignores a long list of consequences, from wind turbines in forests and to slowing down on the autobahn.

Anti-nuclear protesters in Germany (2e14)

Germany's energy policy has three objectives: security, efficiency and environmental protection. This is law, enshrined in the preamble to the German Energy Industry Act. In the past week this oft-cited trio of goals has become a quartet, at least informally. Germany's energy, some policy makers now insist, should also be free of nuclear power.

For days now, countless policy documents, blueprints and reports have been circulating in political Berlin, all claiming to show the quickest way for Germany to rid itself of its nuclear industry. Most of these proposals rely on the rapid expansion of renewable energies such as wind and solar power.

These reports are rarely read, but their headlines are memorable: "Energy from 100 percent renewable sources is feasible." The statement alone seems sufficient for many people to make their minds up once and for all. But nobody is asking about the preconditions, the costs and the consequences of the proposed strategies.

Why should they? If this is going to go ahead, then why not just do away with the nuclear power plants, no matter what the cost? This impulse is understandable in the face of the nuclear disaster in Japan. No one wants to be sitting under a nuclear sword of Damocles, no matter how small the risk of a similar disaster on German soil may be.

There's no doubt that a phase out of nuclear power in Germany is feasible. However, those wanting to do that must be prepared to accept the consequences. Unfortunately, no one is yet offering a precise idea of what those consequences are. Nor is it clear how the proposed compensatory measures will be implemented and enforced.

What do biofuels have to do with nuclear power?

As demonstrated recently by the fiasco of the introduction in Germany of the E10 biofuel, individual compensatory measures may not be easy to implement. What do biofuels have to do with nuclear power? Very simply put: when it comes to emissions, electricity supply and transport are two parts of a larger overall system.

Nuclear power plants currently help Germany save about the same amount of CO2 every year as Germany's automobiles emit. So those who want to shut down Germany's largest source of CO2-free energy must be prepared to accept tougher climate protection measures in other areas.

And this is where we get into the nitty gritty, as a glance at the Green Party's "Energy 2050" plan shows. The proposal calls for a 120 kilometer per hour speed limit on German highways and an 80 kph limit on state roadways. The plan also states that 15 percent of all fuel must come from biofuels by 2020 – say hello to E10. Additionally, there are plans to burden air traffic with taxes on kerosene and CO2 duties. That would mean the end of the burgeoning low-cost airline industry as we know it.

Previous distance and height limits for wind turbines, furthermore, will be scrapped. Wind farms will edge ever closer to villages and towns. There will even be windmills built in forests and nature reserves.

Some consider all that both doable and bearable. It is "always better than dying of radiation sickness," as users on internet forums have pointed out. But it is questionable whether all these individual measures will be enforceable against private interests. Just last year an attempt by the federal government to make standard the zero-energy house policy – and force property owners to commit to costly renovations – sparked a revolt by homeowners and tenants.

Reason to be doubtful

Doing away with nuclear power means quickly replacing a quarter of Germany's electricity supply. Yet in recent weeks, the attempt to introduce the E10 bio-fuel in Germany has come under threat from a boycott by motorists. Environmentalists, meanwhile, continue their protests against the construction of reservoirs in the Black Forest – even though they are urgently needed for storing energy from renewable sources.

Will the population now suddenly accept such measures after Fukushima? There's reason to be doubtful. Once the memory of the Japanese disaster begins to fade, worries about climate change or demands for employment will be pushed to the fore. By that point, the financial costs of converting the energy system may have grown to such proportions that the U-turn on energy could morph into a social issue.

The Green Party's energy plan also deals with risks facing "social groups impoverished due to rising energy prices." The party aims to establish "funds' to compensate low-income households and distribute subsidies and incentives. Is that money to come from public coffers?

The lesson of the E10 fiasco is that costly cuts are only politically feasible when the overall concept behind them is right. So, are the proposed transformations in the energy supply really plausible? The Greens base their prognoses on the assumption that electricity consumption in Germany can be cut 12 percent by 2020.

So far, however, trends towards larger living spaces, an increase in the number of single households, electronic appliances and entertainment devices have off-set all political attempts at energy conservation. Apparently unable to do so themselves, consumers say "industry" should save more energy. But that argument overlooks the fact that Germany is one of the three most energy-efficient economies in the world.

Can German electricity consumption realistically be reduced by 12 percent when – during the same time frame – there are plans to put 2 million electric cars on the roads? It is unlikely that such an ambitious goal is feasible without stringent regulatory economic measures, and without tenable restrictions on household consumption.

We need more time

There is an alternative to all this: that we give ourselves more time. The costs associated with the nuclear phase-out will be proportionally higher depending on how quickly it is implemented. A rash and rapid change in the energy supply system carries at its core the seeds of political failure, due to the high costs, both foreseeable and hidden.

Alternatively, we could pursue a deliberate, prudent course in the switch over to renewable energy sources. In this way success would be more sustainable because it takes into account the economic and social consequences associated with transforming the system. The federal government would be well advised to start facing up to the inherent challenges of any rapid turnabout on nuclear power.

Read the original article in German.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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