After the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel got together academics and experts from different backgrounds, such as the social sciences, politics, religion and economics. She also made sure that these people represented different points of view on the issue at hand. An ethics commission co-chaired by former German environment minister Klaus Toepfer and German Research Foundation president Matthias Kleiner was established and discussions on whether Germany should abolish nuclear energy were held, with a special focus on important issues such as the ethics of nation’s future energy policies and sustainable development.
If we look closely at the commission’s official report to Merkel, what stands out is not the process adopted by Germany’s leaders to hold this national affairs conference, as Taiwan has also done this on many occasions, but rather what was discussed and the depth of the discussions.
Members of the ethics commission had very different opinions about the use of nuclear power, but the report issued after the discussions came up with two key points that would decide Germany’s ethical position toward its future development of nuclear energy: sustainability and responsibility.
Not only did the members feel that they had to consider the relationship between humankind and nature, they also felt that it was necessary to consider the burdens and assets that social development would leave for future generations.
The ethics commission also debated nuclear power and how it is related to important issues such as risk management, climate change, energy security, cost effectiveness, the financial burden, national competitiveness, research and innovation, and avoiding relying on imported energy resources.
Within the ethics commission, at the start, there was no common ground between those against and for nuclear power, but — given the high risk of nuclear power and its failure to stand up to ethical scrutiny — as the talks went on, there was growing common ground around issues such as whether or not there are other forms of energy available that can replace nuclear power, whether or not Germany had the ability to carry out such a large change of energy sources, and what the costs and benefits of such a change would be.
The report concluded that given Germany’s current situation, it would be possible for the nation in the short-term to abolish nuclear power and to start using other energy sources. It also concluded that this required the full agreement of all of German society and its commitment to move in that direction. The report also gave concrete suggestions for measures to be taken.
However, the premise of all of these suggested measures was that all Germans would have to cooperate wholeheartedly and that for things to succeed, politics, law, economics and technology would need to be fully integrated, with everyone involved taking on equal responsibility for the new goals.
Could we hope that the same kind of thing could happen here in Taiwan?
When it comes to Taiwan’s development, is the government able to open up and let the public understand what the options are, and about the related discourse on ethical and social issues?
The government should not keep using scare tactics and incorrect information, and stop its sly political scheming.
Tsai Yueh-hsun is an associate professor of law at National Yunlin University of Science and Technology’s Graduate School of Science and Technology.
Translated by Drew Cameron