Continental elections last weekend gave anti-nuclear Green Parties a huge boost, installing the Greens into a European Parliament kingmaker role. As a result, the rest of Europe is likely to follow the lead of Germany’s environmental party and movement, turning further against civilian nuclear energy and, especially, against coal-fired plants.
The effect will be not only to clean up local air, but also to hand over Europe’s hard-earned cash and hard fought independence to Russia — a nearby nation with abundant and available natural gas. Tragically, a Europe without nuclear power plants and absent dirty, polluting coal-fired plants is a geopolitically weakened Europe dependent on Russia.
No sooner had the Green Party sealed its European Parliament victory this week than the German state announced that it was shutting down every single one of its coal-fired plants. A great move as far as meeting its COP21 climate goals — maybe even making amends for its Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal — but a horrible reality for geopolitics. The highly desirable cutting of greenhouse gases from Bavaria to Schleswig-Holstein, unfortunately, makes everyone more susceptible to state-sponsored Russian interference and Moscow meddling. Western energy diversity, including nuclear power plants, means greater energy security and escaping over-reliance on Russia as a dominant energy supplier.
Nuclear power is the least polluting and, historically, least lethal form of energy generation. That’s a fact. It’s also the most politically toxic industry in the developed world.
In fact, Germans hate it. The 2011 earthquake-tsunami double whammy that damaged and shut the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan still sends tremors through Europe’s nuclear power industry. The Fukushima accident was the immediate catalyst for Germany to start decommissioning its nukes with a plan to phase out all atomic power by 2022.
Already locked into the Paris accords and trying to hit climate goals, Europeans just voted to accelerate their commitment away from nukes and coal burning in favor of greater conservation, solar and wind renewables, and toward using cleaner fossil fuels — primarily natural gas.
Sounds good, right?
Cut use, clean source, and where necessary, burn the invisible, tasteless, odorless natural gas that arrives smoothly and silently through hidden pipes leading to every home. Environmentally sound and responsive to domestic political pressures, this gas-driven dream of a clean energy future is also a geostrategic nightmare.
Every choice is a trade-off, of course and, in this case, the clean-ish gas snaking its way into German homes and around continental Europe has its lethal head in Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s wealth relies on extracting value and profit from Russia’s gas and oil reserves. More than 60 percent of the country’s revenues come from energy exports. Putin’s domestic power lies in being able to leverage his natural resources and financial reserves at home.
Abroad, Putin turns these abundant resources into weaponized dark money for favored foreign politicians and parties, from the Czech Republic to the France. Further, he is able to convert this financial power into the tools of disinformation and the bloated military budgets that spend heavily on offensive hardware. It’s a simple equation that lets monies from Europe’s gas heating and home cooking buy turncoat foreign politicians, fund the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersberg that attacked the 2016 U.S. elections and pay for the production of Russian tanks.
Of course, Putin’s underwriting comes not only from gas that goes to Europe through high-pressure pipelines like Nord Stream and, soon, the pipelines of Trump-opposed Nord Stream 2. It’s also the Russian crude oil that gets pumped, refined and exported to the rest of the world that feeds Putin’s ferociously dangerous system.
In a strange twist, the Nord Stream gas projects, locking in a German energy dependency on Russia, are championed, astoundingly, not by the Greens, but by Germany’s former Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder, apologist extraordinaire and prolific Putin profiteer. Unlike Schroeder, the current Green Party leaders acknowledge the political dimension of Nord Stream 2.
European Green Party victories are not expected to translate into scalable energy diversity. Their good environmental intentions and political fortunes have been fueled by popular youth demonstrations, a failed mainstream centrist politics, a measurably worsening global warming and a rejection of extreme-right, anti-immigrant political parties and platforms that embrace racism. Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel and other European leaders have suggested that the Greens received active support directly from the Russians. While a Russian material interest in a European Green Wave election was clear, there is currently scant evidence of Russian material support for Europe’s Green parties.
The evidence of Russian interference, however, is clear in the U.S. case. America’s 2016 Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, may be sitting out this election cycle following revelations that the Russians came to her aid last time.
Moscow’s goal was not to get a President Stein or to undermine America’s remaining reliance on nuclear power. Instead, Putin put his energy into helping elect a radioactive president who could divide a country like splitting atoms.
Markos Kounalakis reported on Soviet-era nuclear plants in Eastern Europe before becoming a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.