There is also no coordinated European Union nuclear policy, leaving national politics to dictate the fortunes of nuclear energy on the continent. "By the [Lisbon] treaty [amending the EU constitutional structure], we cannot tell them, 'Do this or do that,'" says Marlene Holzner, a spokeswoman for the European energy commissioner. "They are free to do it. The only exception is that they have binding targets for renewable energy, but other than that we cannot interfere."
Still, Rogner points out that even if certain countries revert once again to anti-nuclear policies, nuclear energy could continue to thrive simply by crossing borders. If Germany decides to shut down its reactors, for example, German utilities could build new plants in more nuclear-friendly countries like Poland or the Czech Republic -- with new grids to ship electricity across borders.
For now, all indications are that nuclear power will live far beyond its previous expiration date in Germany and throughout much of Europe. This dawning reality has sparked protests by anti-nuclear activists across the continent. At Sept. 18's rally in Berlin, massive crowds marched through the streets in and around the Regierungsviertel, or government quarter, chanting and blowing vuvuzelas in a show of support for renewable energy and opposition to nuclear power. Organizers of the demonstration claimed a turnout of 100,000; police estimated it at 40,000. In either case, it was the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in Germany since the aftermath of Chernobyl.
Claire Labigne and Uli Agurks, a middle-aged couple from the Odenwald, near Frankfurt, danced through the streets in anti-nuclear regalia. "Sun, wind, water, biomass -- it's all out there," said Labigne, a member of the Green Party. "It doesn't cost anything, and it belongs to all of us. Why wouldn't we use it?" She's convinced Merkel's plan won't hold up. "There's too much opposition," she said. "The Germans are ready to fight."
But Steffen, a man in his late 20s who declined to give his last name, wasn't so optimistic. "Unfortunately, it's not going to change at all," he said with a laugh, as he held a poster depicting Merkel next to Mr. Burns, the evil nuclear power plant owner from The Simpsons. "At least not under this administration."
Meanwhile, Merkel hails her administration's renewed commitment to nuclear power as a "revolution" as Germany's opposition leader mourns "a black day for German energy production." Call it what you will -- it's clear that nuclear power in Europe is back from the dead.