Ah, the Germans. Known for Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Loewe televisions, and no sense of humour. Also known for installing way more solar generating technology than is sensible in a dark northern European country (perhaps I am wrong about the sense of humour), and now known for a planned retirement of all their nuclear power generation by 2022. Here’s a link to the report from BBC World.

Counting on replacing nuclear power with solar power in northern Europe. No comment.

Post-Fukushima, the general global response regarding nuclear seems to have been a brief hiatus, an assessment of the implications, and then a continuation of planned development with some addtional checks and safeguards. That makes sense to me, considering the extraordinary convergence of circumstances that lead to Fukushima, all of which hinged on a very old reactor design, and the distinct lack of fatalities or injuries. I have looked at this in some depth in previous articles.

The Germans are bucking this trend and planning the chuck the lot in. Is that a good idea? I’ll hand the post over now to two pretty succinct and conflicting commentaries on the issue that a friend forwarded to me today. The original post is here, reproduced below. I’ll throw it over to the comments thread after that. Let me know what you think.

 Viewpoints: German nuclear shutdown

Germany’s decision to close all its nuclear power plants by 2022 may affect the industry across Europe. Switzerland is also phasing out nuclear energy but the UK has proposed new nuclear power stations, entirely funded by the private sector.

Will Germany’s decision lead to an international debate for more renewable sources of energy, or is this an internal German development, unlikely to have an impact elsewhere?

Here, speaking to the BBC World Service, British nuclear power advocate Malcolm Grimston argues about the impact with green energy campaigner Jeremy Leggett.

Malcolm Grimston, Chatham House research fellow in nuclear issues, and adviser to the UK government on nuclear policy

This is not necessarily damaging for the nuclear industry. I think this will create new export opportunities for the French nuclear industry in Germany. The Czech Republic will be another source of the replacement imports. Most of that will be as a result of coal but the Czech Republic itself has a vigorous new nuclear programme. So this does create a new market for nuclear electricity and, as long as that is what has happened, then the environment will not be damaged.

I think the real concern is that last year we had more carbon dioxide emissions than ever before. To have a major European economy inevitably saddling itself with more greenhouse gas emissions – the German Greens are openly talking about building more gas-powered plants and supporting the new coal-fired plants that are being brought online – is, I think, going to be a tragedy for the environment, and I don’t think it’s going to be good for the German economy.

There is plenty of time for the Germans to reverse their decision. We have seen many flip-flops in German opinion already. The economy there is already very severely crippled by its enormous renewable subsidies and, of course, in hot weather the wind farms tend not to work at all. In Germany they had about 1.5% output for three weeks in 2003 because of the heat.

Having said that, I hope we can get further with renewables and with energy efficiency. Energy efficiency tends not to cut energy use, it boosts economic output. These are all things we have to approach but to be closing down nuclear plants rather than coal plants is, I think, just environmental vandalism.

Jeremy Leggett, green energy campaigner and owner of a renewable energy company

In the long run, nuclear power does not really help that much with greenhouse gas emissions”

I think the German decision is a very encouraging development and I would be very bullish about what will happen in the train of it. On the subject of French nuclear electricity, Electricite de France have already warned that this summer most of their nuclear power plants, the ones inland, are going to be stressed because we have had such a dry spring. The rivers are low, there is not enough cooling water, so they have put on watch the coastal reactors that will not be able to have scheduled maintenance. And they have flagged that they may be needing to import electricity from other countries as a result of the innate weaknesses of the French nuclear plants.

Another factor is that there is a review going on of all the nuclear plants in France. They are going to be looking in detail at the safety and reliability aspects of those plants and who knows what they are going to find when we look under those carpets? In America right now, the nuclear regulatory authority is going through the same exercise. They have found problems in every plant they have looked at. So this is an ailing industry.

I think, in the wake of the German decision, we will see the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries showing what they are capable of.

In the long run, nuclear power does not really help that much with greenhouse gas emissions. The way you deal with that problem is by accelerating energy efficiency and renewables, and that is what this decision is going to do.

Japan is shutting down 38 nuclear reactors. I have just come back from there. It is pretty dim at night. They are turning down the lights, they are trying to stave off these rolling power cuts they would have to have because so many plants are being shut down. But they are finding in many areas that they do not need the rolling power cuts because when people turn their minds to energy efficiency, they can do incredible things.

16 comments

    1. Deutsche Bank agrees with you on that point and more (from Financial Times):

      Germany will miss its CO2 emission targets, face rising electricity prices and become “dramatically” more reliant on Russian gas if it keeps to its policy of phasing out nuclear energy, a new study warns.

      The 60-page paper by Deutsche Bank will add to the pressure on Angela Merkel, chancellor, to renegotiate the phase-out deal agreed by the previous government in 2000, despite her pledge not to reopen the controversial debate.

      Rising concern about global warming and energy security has sparked a lively dispute in Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led grand coalition government about the wisdom of renouncing nuclear energy…

      …”Shutting down nuclear is inconceivable as a serious policy,” said Mark Lewis, energy analyst and author of the report. “It will mean missing your carbon emission targets and lead to gas-powered plants replacing today’s nuclear plants.”

      The environment ministry said Germany’s goal of cutting CO2 emissions by 40 per cent of their 1990 level by 2020 “can be achieved without nuclear energy. But of course, nobody ever said it would be easy”.

      The SPD has yet to show any willingness to renegotiate the nuclear exit deal. Rainer Wend, a Social Democratic MP and member of parliament’s economics committee, said: “If we must import more Russian gas, then so be it. Russia is a reliable supplier…”

    2. Totally understand where you are coming from. I felt I should not ignore it, but at the same time it is such a total no-brainer of a bad idea, I can barely face it. Hence the decision to just post other commentary rather than an original piece. Even Monbiot, who remains pretty bullish about growth in renewables, makes the point that expecting them to also replace nuclear is a hell of a big ask.

  1. Italy did the same in 1990 after the crisis at Chernobyl. In 2008 after a review the Italian Energy Minister said:
    “terrible mistake that cost the economy 50bn euros (£41bn; $65bn) in import costs and more expensive electricity bills…Now we have no choice but to return to nuclear power”
    Now they are returning to Nuclear Power with the assistance of the French. The irony is in both cases, 1990’s and now, France came to the rescue and exported electricity to Italy and now Germany (then passing on the extra income to French consumers in lower elec prices). The electricity grid manager released figures for the electicity trade between France and Germany showing “an unseasonal” rise in electricity exports to Southern Germany in April (after they shut down reactors there). Furthermore France just released plans to expand it’s Nuclear Industry.

    I’m moving to France if the electricity prices here go any further North!

    Will the Germans learn from the mistakes of the Italians? Probably not. However the Germans have flip-flopped numerous times in the past decade over Nuclear Power and their overall energy policy. This suggests it’s all political, and nothing to do with the Nuclear Industry.

    Same deal with the recent convention agreed by high ranking government officials from European countries to say no to nuclear, but stop short of actually saying no nuclear. The officials are from Ireland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway, Luxembourg, and Portugal. Bsaically their statement was to review safety, look at renewable alternatives, and in a round about way say “no nuclear but we’re not anti-nuclear”.

    More political games based on polling rather than the actual issue at hand. Shame.

      1. Thanks Deckerman, all very handy stuff to have ready to hand. It all just beggars belief doesn’t it?

        “So this is an ailing industry.”
        I hate this stupid little lie. Readily disproved with 5 minutes and an internet connection, but they keep repeating the meme hoping it will take hold. Once again, anti-nuclears acting the same as climate change deniers.

      2. I hate to be saying this, since I am italian, but I very much doubt that Italy will infact return to nuclear anytime soon.

        Just today, the high court ruled in favor of the anti-nuclear committee that proposed a referendum vote which will effectively ban nuclear from Italy, vote which will be held on June 12th and 13th.

        The only hope that pro-nuclear groups have now is that there will not be a “quorum”, the majority of registered voters must infact go to the polls for the referendum to be valid.

        I have briefly reported about this topic on my blog earlier today, as the first news came from Rome:
        http://futuronucleare.com/2011/06/01/the-referendum-against-nuclear-in-italy-will-happen/

        Let’s hope that the sun will shine on June 12th and 13th, so that all the italians will go to the beach and the referendum will not be valid! 😉

        Luca Bertagnolio
        Futuro Nucleare

  2. Twice during the 20th century the Germans made decisions which cost them mega lives and mega billions of marks.

    Maybe they are hoping to be third time lucky – I think not.

  3. … the German Greens are openly talking about building more gas-powered plants and supporting the new coal-fired plants that are being brought online – is, I think, going to be a tragedy for the environment…”

    If this is true, and they are openly talking about making up the short fall with fossil fuels, I can’t understand how they can still call themselves “Green”. I’m constantly horrified that anyone who professes a concern for the human and environmental consequences of climate change would choose fossil fuels over CO2 emission free power generation. However bad they think nuclear is, it can’t be worse than condemning the planet to death. And here, I realise that the popular conception of nuclear power is that it is, itself, a death sentence waiting to happen, but why feed this? When the future of the planet is at stake, when we all risk losing our homes, our livelihoods and our lives from the natural disasters spawned by a changing climate, why not take the time to put the Fukushima accident into perspective? I don’t understand how otherwise intelligent people can be so reckless.

      1. Yeah, I guess that last question was rhetorical.

        I know the study, but Angela Merkel is not your average punter, as a “professional scientist” she should be part of the “pluralistic advocacy” that the study recomends.

  4. What is Leggett talking about with his specific nonsense* of “Japan is shutting down 38 nuclear reactors”? Is there some basis for this or is just the falsehood it appears to be?

    *as opposed to his generic nonsense of “In the long run, nuclear power does not really help that much with greenhouse gas emissions”, which is clearly untrue also. I wonder sometimes what the attraction of (say) wind is, other than producing electricity without burning hydrocarbons.

      1. Not only have the Germans gone completely bonkers by shutting down nuclear power , but they are now going through the looking glass. Why ? The Greens think it a great idea if the biomass grown to provide feedstock for turning into biofuel is not GM in origin. And this from a society that gave us the Diesel engine and the MP3 , to name just a few.

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