The latest aftershock of the nuclear disaster in Japan is a potentially earthshaking decision in Germany: to do away with its nuclear power industry.
If Germany can completely replace its nuclear power with renewable energy, it would be a pioneering accomplishment. But if its rejection of nuclear steeply increases its reliance on fossil fuels, that would severely hamper the world's effort to curb climate change. So there's a lot at stake for all of us in how this plays out.
Whatever the outcome, it's clear that politics played a role in Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision that Germany will have closed all 17 of its nuclear plants by 2022.
Last year, her coalition moved to extend the life of nuclear plants, and a lot of German voters didn't like it. Then the earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, triggering anti-nuclear protests in Germany. Merkel listened.
Germany would be the first leading industrial nation to abandon nuclear. So it's a powerful test case for that strategy. In our country, we're not close to a consensus to shut down all nuclear plants, but there are other energy steps we should take.
We should push research on and implementation of renewables, increase safety at nuclear plants, find a permanent solution for storing nuclear waste, and seek cleaner ways to burn fossil fuel. And we should keep an eye on Germany's experiment and Japan's travail, looking for lessons to guide us as we unfold our own energy future.