European Responses to the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Victoria Nguyen
February 22, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Fig. 1: Fukushima fueled anti-nuclear protests in Munich, Germany in March 2011. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the days following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on March 11th, 2011, the world experienced political aftershocks that would have significant and long-lasting impacts on international energy policy. General Yukiya Amano, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), noted that the events at Fukushima caused "deep public anxiety throughout the world and damaged confidence in nuclear power." [1] This anxiety manifested itself in an anti-nuclear movement that gained considerable momentum in Europe for years to come. Here, we examine how the Japanese nuclear disaster shaped nuclear energy policy in Germany, France, and Italy.


Opposition to nuclear energy in Germany had been simmering for decades before the Fukushima accident; publications in the 1960s began raising concerns over the safety of nuclear energy and the issue of nuclear waste disposal. [2] In the following decades, public perception of nuclear energy remained divided. While the oil price shock of 1974 garnered some strong support for nuclear energy, the Chernobyl accident pushed the Social Democratic Party to pass anti- nuclear legislature. [3] Overall, the growth of nuclear energy has always been stifled by wide-spread skepticism.

The Fukushima disaster ignited anti-nuclear sentiments across the country. Approximately 250,000 demonstrators participated in protests in major cities during March 2011, making it the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany's history. These protestors demanded that Chancellor Merkel's pro-nuclear government immediately shut the seventeen power plants. [4]

With these protests occurring immediately prior to state elections, the government readily complied with protestors - Chancellor Merkel immediately shut down the eight nuclear power plants that were constructed before 1980, and issued a three month moratorium for the other nine plants. By the end of 2022, all of Germany's nuclear reactors will be permanently shut down. [5]


The oil shock of 1974 also spurred pro-nuclear sentiments in France. However, France's limited natural energy resources resulted in an nuclear heavy-energy independence policy that garnered far less controversy than any nuclear energy policy in Germany. Cementing nuclear's large share of the French energy portfolio, legislators introduced an ambitious plan to install 56 nuclear power plants throughout the country within fifteen years. Despite some scattered protests in the 1990s, France has remained incredibly pro-nuclear. [6]

That is not to say, however, that concerns were not raised among the French public following the Fukushima disaster. Roughly 900 citizens and sixty organizations organized an anti-nuclear protest in Paris on March 20th, 2011, calling for a permanent phase out plan. [7] As of 2013, the percentage of French citizens in favor nuclear energy still remained 13 points below the percentage in favor in 2008. [8]

In the months following, French nuclear safety standards were reevaluated and new safety measures were proposed to prevent a similar nuclear disaster occurring in France. Consequently, Electricite de France (EdF) has invested an estimated 13 billion euro in adopting the new safety measures, which include housing all safety systems within disaster-resistant bunkers and forming a nuclear emergency force. [9]


Unlike France and Germany, Italy currently has no operating nuclear reactors. Following Chernobyl, Italy passed a referendum in 1987 to phase out its few plants by 1990. However, the 2008 election of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister in ushered in a new pro-nuclear government. Under his tenure, an extensive plan was developed with an eventual goal of deriving 25% of Italy's electricity from nuclear power. Several measures quickly passed to expedite construction of new nuclear reactors within five years. [10]

Fukushima-fueled safety concerns hit Italy particularly hard, as Italy is at high risk of earthquakes and other natural disasters. [11] The government immediately issued a one-year moratorium on any plant construction and conducted a referendum that ended Berlusconi's nuclear revival.


The Fukushima nuclear disaster was one of the largest nuclear disasters in history, prompting the world to re-evaluate their nuclear energy policies. Fukushima had drastic policy effects in Germany, where citizens were already large skeptics of nuclear power. Today, in 2016, there is virtually zero public support for nuclear energy despite Germany's high electricity costs. France remains incredibly pro-nuclear, though the country plans to reduce its nuclear share to 50% in order to diversify the energy portfolio. [12] In Italy, little support exists for Berlusconi's nuclear revival, and it is unlikely that Italy will add nuclear energy to its energy portfolio in the near future.

© Victoria Nguyen. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "IAEA Sees Slow Nuclear Growth Post Japan," UPI, 23 Sep 11.

[2] W. Rudig, Anti-Nuclear Movements: A World Survey of Opposition to Nuclear Energy (Cartermill International, 1990).

[3] A. Liegl, "Fukushima's German Repercussions," Physics 241, Stanford University, Spring 2014.

[4] S. Brown, "Anti-Nuclear Germans Protest on Eve of State Elections," Reuters, 26 Mar 11.

[5] M. Eddy, "Nuclear Plant Closing Reflects Overhaul of Germany Energy Production," The New York Times, 12 Jul 15.

[6] L. S. Wittner, "Nuclear Disarmament Activism in Asian and the Pacific, 1971-1996," Asia-Pacific Journal 7, No. 25, 5 (2009).

[7] "Près d'un Millier de Manifestants à Paris Demandent la Sortie du nucléaire ," Le Point, 30 Mar 11.

[8] "Majority of French Want to Drop Nuclear Energy - Poll," Reuters, 13 Apr 11.

[9] D. Butler, "France 'Imagines the Unimaginable'," Nature 481, 121 (2012).

[10] "Italy to Build 8-10 Nuclear Reactors," The Calgary Herald, 17 Oct 08.

[11] T. McVeigh, "Nuclear Safety Worries Spread to Europe," 12 Mar 11.

[12] R. Broomby, "France Struggles to Cut Down on Nuclear Power," BBC News, 11 Jan 14.