Third dimension of the medal?

Third dimension of the medal? Opinions divided on the label of “sustainability” for nuclear power in the future.
These are just quick highlights from a recent political discussion at the EU level and a journalistic report of the Spiegel.

Third dimension of the medal? Opinions divided on the label of “sustainability” for nuclear power in the future. These are just quick highlights from a recent political discussion at the EU level and a journalistic report of the Spiegel.

With the Taxonomy published on December 31, 2021, the EU Commission sent a New Year’s Eve cracker to the EU member governments. According to this, nuclear power, as well as gas, should receive a green label because it saves CO2, and thus apply as a guideline for sustainable private and public investment, so the proposal of the Taxonomy. Since then, three dimensions have unexpectedly become clear about the future of nuclear power.

  • France and co/ have caused a green label for nuclear power and gas for political reasons. President Macron is said to have pressured the EU on this labelling, as he needs positive points in the election campaign in France.
  • Germany is closing the last three nuclear power plants (AKW). Since Fukushima, but even since the 1968s, nuclear power plants have been controversial and to this day people warn that there is no way to find secure places for permanent nuclear disposals.
  • Finland, on the other hand, is undertaking a millennium of repositories for nuclear waste, which will be an extensive and expensive undertaking to safe nuclear waste, Finland as the first country worldwide… (cf. “In alle Ewigkeit”, Spiegel No. 4, 22 January 2022).

In this context, I´m reading among other articles a report taking up an interesting background, a kind of unexpected ´social mood´ barometer: Especially in the two countries Finland and Germany, a very different relationship to science has been identified. According to the Eurobarometer, people in Finland place much more trust in science than Germans. (see Der Spiegel No 4, 22 Jan 2022, based on data from a Finish researcher and the Eurobaromenter).

What is the reason for the pragmatism of the Finns, Der Spiegel asks? The researcher Jari Väliverronen, professor of communication studies, is quoted as saying that there is a high amount of trust in the relationship between the Finnish people and science, as well as public institutions and politics. Confidence in science is a top priority for the Finns (compared to Germans) after their studies. Trust is seen as an invisible mortar that holds a society together beyond all disagreements and debates. Notably, 80% of Finns think that a description of scientists and their work is reliable (Väliverronen, after the Eurobarometer). In Germany, on the other hand, only 59% believe this, no nation is more sceptical about in the EU, only the Cypriots are more suspicious.

How honest do Finns and Germans think scientists are? Finns said 76%, Germans only 45% (even Bulgarians were higher here with 49%). And knowing about science in everyday life seems important to 70% of Finns, compared to only 46 in the European average.

As a source of information, social media seemed to play a minor role in Finland (5th place behind TV, newspapers, trade journals, online encyclopedias) but ranks 2-3 in the European average.

Confidence is the skin message that shapes Finnish society when it comes to vaccines. Even against climate change, right-wing populists are heard less than in other countries. Finland seems to be more “resilient” to some of the hostilities of our time, such as trust in the police.

In Finland, nuclear power is largely discussed by experts, less by civil society than in other countries, and compared to heated debates on the topic in Germany. Finish civil society protests are apparently less developed, and this also applies comparatively to the question of nuclear power and its opponents, who have been protesting in Germany for decades. Finnish citizens’ groups and NGOs are less interested in protests in Finland, the only hard arguments were about the forest.

Experts and politicians agreed when looking for the location of the nuclear storage facility, the nuclear site is therefore not a comparatively big issue in Finland, in Germany, it is still highly controversial, also on the part of the Green Party. The duration of final storage, in Finland it is suggested for 100000 years, in Germany, it would have to be one million years, and no place identified yet. On top of this, while the German public avoids living closer to the area of nuclear power stations, Finish families are said to prefer staying close to where the technical construction works are starting and the area of a small city called Eurajoki is even growing by population.

Additional thoughts for further consideration in the context of Future and Strategic Foresight

  • Apart from serious technical issues, in this complex topic, we find interacting components, in particular economic, cultural, and political issues.
  • What could a different cultural orientation mean also for people´s trust in science, in politics, and in Futurism or Strategic Foresight? Are they more prepared for risk-taking and dystopias as well? Here the case of Finland is of utmost interest (as long as the situation described could be verified).
  • What role do political elections play on long-term effects? And what role does the respective economic power play in questions of nuclear power policy, etc. E.g.: how is science integrated into society, what is politics doing about it – also in France? Moreover, the longer-term question will be, how will “sustainability” markers be defined in the future at the EU level and beyond?
  • The German Green party, meanwhile part of the government, sees the Taxonomy and the greening of nuclear energy as “grob irreführend”, “grossly misleading”. It jeopardizes incentives to invest in truly green energy, as proposed by the new government. Austria and other countries are joining the German position; it may be too late to win enough votes for turning the decision around, however.
  • In Germany, an interdisciplinary group including social and political scientists is tasked to identify the possible places for long-term deposit of nuclear waste. Surprisingly, one prominent person involved, is the political scientist Patrizia Nanz, an expert on transformational policies, public participation, and democratic innovation. She is now Vice president of the BASE (Federal Office for the security of nuclear waste deposits) which includes open fora with civil society following the complex final storage of nuclear waste issues. Professor Nanz inter alia directed the Franco-German Forum for the Future and she is the co-chair of “Science Platform Sustainability 2030”.

In alle Ewigkeiten, by Uwe Buse, Der Spiegel No 4, 22 January 2022

Jari Väliverronen, Tampere Research Centre for Journalism, Tampere University, and the University of Jyväskylä, Finland,

Eurobarometer, European citizen knowledge and attitudes towards science and technology, April to May 2021

Patrizia Nanz: