There were two big shocks in the Land (state) elections in two large German Lander: Baden-Wurttemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz. The Greens won big in both elections! The recent crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan seems to have been a major factor in both elections. You may ask, "so big deal, the Greens won a by-election." But Baden-Wurttemberg is one of the most conservative Lander in Germany. This would something like the American Green Party winning the governorship in Georgia. The Greens won enough seats that they can take the Premiership of the Land if they can form a coalition with the slightly smaller, Social Democrats (see election results here). In Rhineland-Pfalz, the Social Democrats had hoped to continue to govern alone but will be forced into a coalition with the Greens (see election results here). Both elections mean that the Greens will have more representation in the German upper house (Bundesrat).
Earlier I posted an attempt to start a discussion about the new politics of alternative energy that will result from the Fukushima crisis (and the oil price increases we're likely to see for the foreseeable future). These election results in South Western Germany suggest that the new political landscape is already emerging.
Germany gets about the same share of its electricity from nuclear power as Japan does (a little more than a quarter). The Social Democratic and Green Party coalition that governed Germany until 2005 had begun a plan to gradually phase out their nuclear power. The Greens had said from the start it wasn't going far enough quick enough but in any case, that coalition lost the election the Christian Democrats. In 2009 with the Christian Democrats consolidating their power, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced a major extension of the date by which nuclear power would be phased out. After Fukushima, Merkel announced that she was flip flopping and suspended operation at several older plants and suspended the extension of the phase out. Too little, too late apparently.
If these results had happened in one of the more left leaning, northern Lander like Nordrhein-Westfalen, I'd be less impressed by this. But that these elections, especially the one in Baden-Wurttemberg, are happening in the more conservative south western part of the country suggests a major shift in German politics. One might be inclined to say this was a fluke resulting from the high profile coverage of the Fukushima crisis. But anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany had been building for a long time. Fukushima may have just put it finally over the threshold where nuclear power is permanently on the outs in Germany.
Germany cannot hope to supply its power needs with wind power or current solar technology. Germany is already a world leader in research and development in alternative energy sources. I think there will be a number consequences of this. One of them will be that it will be even harder for Germany (and the EU) to meet their Kyoto targets. Another will be that the Germans are about to ramp up their investment in non-nuclear alternatives. This will mean that the warnings that Obama has been sounding about the US falling behind in the fields of research that will generate the 21st century economy are even more valid.