The Nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has had an impact on Western Europe's politics -- fortunately, not an overwhelming one. Although the West German state of Lower Saxony is heavily dependent on nuclear energy, the returns in the state elections there last weekend show no clear imprint of the accident. If German voters were swinging away from nuclear power, NATO's nuclear weapons and the government that supports both, that would presumably have been visible in the strength of the Green party. The Greens went from 6.5 percent of the vote in the state's last election four years ago to 7.1 percent this time. That's less than a triumph.
One reason for it was doubtless the nature of the Green party, which never does things by halves. It not only is against the NATO missiles, but wants to pull Germany out of NATO altogether. It not only denounces nuclear power, but at a couple of reactor sites got involved in demonstrations that led to fighting with the police. That allowed conservatives to charge that votes for the Greens would lead to chaos, a thought that touches the Weimar reflex -- the engrained German fear of an impotent government that cannot cope with political violence in the streets.
*The election attracted more than local interest, for it was a precursor to Germany's national elections next January. The state is run by the same center-right coalition that holds power in Bonn, and if it had lost in Lower Saxony, the federal chancellor, Helmut Kohl, would have been in some considerable danger of being removed from office by his Christian Democratic party before the national campaign began. Responding to that possibility, Mr. Kohl campaigned vigorously in Lower Saxony despite a rather tepid reception from the local candidates. They considered Mr. Kohl, whose style is ponderous and deeply cautious, to be less popular than his party. But although the party did not win quite as many votes as it did four years ago, it won enough -- by a hairbreadth -- to remain in office. By engaging himself directly and risking his own job, Mr. Kohl seems to have improved his standing in his party and perhaps in the country as well.
This narrow victory is another indication that the January election as well may be close. But it also suggests that the January results will turn mainly on traditional German issues such as prosperity and stability. Nuclear sensitivities are great in West Germany, but at least in this highly conspicuous instance, they do not appear to have changed many votes.