Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Mr. and I have been glued to reading news organizations’ websites as we’ve watched the tragedy in Japan unfold. It’s hard to imagine the scale of the tsunami’s destruction and what it must have been like for those that experienced it. Even watching video after video of shocking news and home footage, we’re getting a feel for only a fraction of the fear and heartache it left in its wake. And now the nuclear crisis there has brought the disaster to Germany’s door as politicians here try to figure out how Germany should move forward with its energy plan.
Germany currently gets about 13% of its energy from nuclear power. The use of nuclear power is a hotly contested issue here, and the Mr.’s parents, for example, have been involved in protests and marches against nuclear power since he was a child. In 2000, Germany’s government and the German nuclear power industry agreed to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2021. The current administration, headed by Angela Merkel, decided to prolong their operation by an average of 12 years. That all possibly changed on Tuesday when Merkel announced the temporary shutdown of 7 of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants. Some are calling it a political move in light of upcoming elections, but others are hopeful that it’s a step towards eleminating nuclear power here in Germany once and for all. The German people, who have always been somewhat nervous about implementing nuclear power in their heavily populated country, are watching in horror as Japan is facing a potentially catastrophic meltdown. It is a little frightening to realize we live within 18 miles of a plant. Political calculation or not, at least the German government is taking the fear of its people seriously and actively doing something to help alleviate it. The problem is, there are no easy answers when it comes to energy. Germany is taking steps to cut energy consumption and develop sources of renewable energy like solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal, but these sources only make up around 14% of its energy according to Wikipedia. The goverment has set a goal to increase it to 27% by 2020, and if they manage to do it, it would look as if that could replace nuclear power’s output.
On a more personal note, we have a strange connection of sorts to what’s happening in Japan. Many of our friends know that we’ve been wanting to take a trip to Japan for quite some time. When the Mr. was offered the job in Germany, the carrot he dangled in front of me to help persuade me to move away from Edinburgh was the promise of a “big” trip, i.e. somewhere far away and more exotic than our usual travels. My number one destination for some time now has been Japan. We toyed with the idea of going this past fall, but I really wanted to go in spring to see the cherry blossoms. So it was all decided; we would go in spring 2011. I told family and friends of our plans, and even emailed everyone I knew who had been there to get their tips and advice. Then about 1 1/2 months ago, while I was reading our Japan guidebook and researching the trip, I came across the brief section on earthquakes and tsunamis. The Mr. mentioned that Japan was “due for a big one,” but lots of places are, right? We’ve been to San Francisco twice now and although I was always aware of the potential threat, I never had a feeling that I shouldn’t go because of it. But for some reason, reading about the earthquakes in Japan stuck with me. And I slowly started developing a feeling I couldn’t shake: that we shouldn’t go to Japan right now. I rationalized that feeling with the fact that Japan is incredibly expensive to visit right now, with the exchange rate being one of the worst in the last 30 years or so. And this was the reason I told everyone why we weren’t going. But mostly, from my point of view anyway, it was less economic and more because of this unsettling feeling …like something bad would either happen while we were there, or to us in particular. Now I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my life from my teenage years through to now, having been across much of the US, Western Europe and even a bit of Asia. Never in all of the years of travelling had I ever decided to not go somewhere because of a “bad feeling.” I had never had a “bad feeling” like this before at all when it came to travel plans. Once we made that decision to not go, I recall even thinking to myself that most likely nothing would happen in Japan over the next couple of months and I would always just to have wonder whether something bad would have happened to us, or whether I was just crazy with my “bad feeling.” Now I don’t have to wonder anymore…that’s for sure.
Who knows why I felt that way. I certainly don’t believe it’s because God or the universe or whoever wanted to warn us in particular to not go to Japan while the 10,000+ people who (it’s almost certain) have perished got no such warning. My guess is that it was most likely coincidence and nothing more; still, if I were to ever feel that way again, I think I might think twice about doing whatever it was I was planning to do.