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Contentions

Panic as Policy

Spiegel Online reports that Germany is reacting to the Japan catastrophe with a kind of madness:

The public fear is so great that Chancellor Angela Merkel, intent on avoiding defeat for her party in three state elections this month, pulled the plug on Monday on the most important policy of her second term in office, the extension of nuclear reactor lifetimes by an average of 12 years beyond the originally scheduled phase-out date of 2021.

Just 48 hours after the explosion at reactor No. 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Saturday, Merkel caved, ordering a three-month moratorium on the extension. The seven oldest of Germany’s 17 power stations, the ones that went into operation before the end of 1980, will be shut down immediately pending a three-month safety review.

It is unclear how many of them will be reopened.

Hysteria on the largest scale possible has become the default official response to all crises. A lay public furnished with near-instantaneous media coverage can be counted on to demand immediate and absolute measures so that the crisis can be scrubbed from consciousness, however crudely or illogically. And over-monitored leaders will be sure to comply. Today a politician can lose his job if he doesn’t swiftly change historical precedent to fit the frenzied misinterpretation of a still-breaking news story. This will continue to yield atrocious consequences.

We have become accustomed to seeing collective shock elevated to the realm of policy. In fact, it’s what we expect of responsible leadership. There’s an oil spill? Ban drilling. A shooting? Forbid even speaking in martial metaphors. A nuclear accident? Kill nuclear energy. This crude emotionalism is actually liberalism at warp speed. It demands that governments alleviate the immediate discomfort of the onlooker without regard for accuracy or consequence. It will produce many more historic disasters than it can manage.


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