The Hidden Fallout From Germany's Sudden Nuclear Shutdown

Editorial: In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany has been decided so quickly, and with so little thought, that it skirts the edges of democratic legitimacy.

Isar nuclear plant Unterahrain, Germany (bagalute)
Isar nuclear plant Unterahrain, Germany (bagalute)
Thomas Schmid

BERLIN - The biggest advantage of democracy is the possibility of getting rid of governments you don't like in a peaceful way. That doesn't sound like much. Yet it sums up all the wisdom and beauty at the core of a democratic system. In a democracy, you can say A, but you can also say B, just as you can rely on the assumption that nothing has to last forever. Everything can be changed, amended, courses reversed. In short, the very life and soul of democracy is that there are always other options.

Germany's federal government is now abusing that basic rule in a scandalous way. There can be no doubt that the country needs to be looking at a smart mix of different energy sources for the future, and that developing viable alternatives to atomic power is an urgent necessity. Yet the manner in which the federal government has rushed to its decision to put a definitive stop to the use of nuclear energy by 2022 runs counter to all rules of democratic procedure.

It began when, for politically-motivated and tactical reasons alone, the government went back on the agreement made last fall — just seven months ago — to extend the life span of nuclear power plants. After the Japanese plant Fukushima began leaking radiation, it felt compelled to cede to public pressure by making a rapid move away from atomic power. Backtracking in the blink of an eye, the government moved so quickly partly out of fear of the Greens, and entirely without discussion or reflection.

The Swiss Energy and Environment Minister Doris Leuthard—who had the determining vote in her government's decision not to build any more atomic power plants and to stop the use of nuclear energy by 2034—stated: "The change needs time, but we also have time." That deliberate tone is sorely missed in Germany. From the Christian Social Union (CSU) to the greenest of the republic's Greens, over the past few weeks it's as if everyone is trying to outdo everyone else in signing the death warrant on nuclear power. It's a climate that only engenders more excitability, not good sense.

Why the rush?

It is rather astonishing to see how radically the federal government has avoided examining alternative solutions on this issue. Indeed, such an evasion of a debate on the so-called "Fukushima Package," which comes up for parliamentary vote on July 8, could be said to skirt legality. Hans-Jürgen Papier, a former president of Germany's Federal Constitutional Court, not known for making unconsidered remarks, called the moratorium an "illegal measure,"" and something that "Angela Merkel, the magician pulled out of her hat like a rabbit a couple of days after Fukushima."" There was no reaction from Berlin.

The Federal Network Agency, also not known for rash pronouncements, stated that consequences of the moratorium would be ""questionable in terms of the energy industry, economically inefficient, and ecologically damaging""—again, no reaction from anti-nuclear Berlin, which steamrolled right over it.

And nobody really seems to be perturbed that the body created by Merkel to wind down the use of nuclear power has impertinently been assigned the name of "Ethics Commission""—as if the issue at stake were an ethical one, and not one of practical and technical common sense. Supporters of atomic energy comprise a tiny minority of the 17-person commission, and within the government only the most faint voices can still be heard raising a timid "But?...."" What a wonderful victory for the robust give-and-take that nurtures democracy!

And then there's Europe. When a founding EU member as powerful as the Federal Republic of Germany wants the continent and the rest of the world to head down a new energy path, then it would be vital not only for that member to take the matter up at the European level, but to give it time -- we need time, and we have it. Germany has shown no respect for the energy policies of other EU countries, and particularly no trace of consideration for the East/West split that exists in Europe over nuclear power. Instead, Germany has chosen to go it alone on this issue, assuming a kind of avant-garde, "moral-high-ground"" role that is not always going to play well elsewhere.

Sustainability also means not getting caught up in the fluster of every passing pressure. It means taking time, in the clear knowledge that a "no"" to nuclear power does not constitute an answer to the complex question of how to find viable future sources of energy.

Weighing the pros and cons, hearing out the opposition, putting things in longer-term perspective: we're not seeing any of this. Instead, there is an unholy alliance between those who want to "govern without hindrance" and those who would usurp the will of both parliament and the people in favor of morally charged environmental pressure. In a rational Germany, haste on such weighty issues should not be tolerated.

Read the original article in German

photo - bagalute

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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