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Germany abandons nuclear power

Written By: - Date published: 7:22 am, March 25th, 2011 - 31 comments
Categories: energy, International, sustainability - Tags: , ,

Japan’s ongoing nuclear disaster is spreading radiation over an ever widening area. After contaminated spinach, milk, and other foodstuffs, the latest advice is that water in Tokyo is unsafe for babies. If it’s unsafe for babies now, how long before it is unsafe for children, then for adults? Then what, for one of the world’s most populous cites? Let us all hope that Japan can get control of this situation before the worst happens.

The world will gradually be forced to abandon fossil fuels. Fukushima (and Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island) show us that we can’t trust nuclear power. It has to be green, renewable energy sources. Can’t be done? Germany thinks it can:

Germany set to abandon nuclear power for good

Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

The world’s fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a “catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.”

Berlin’s decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how Germany might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none.

And experts say Germany’s phase-out provides a good map that countries such as the United States, which use a similar amount of nuclear power, could follow. The German model would not work, however, in countries like France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 percent of its power and has no intention of shifting. …

Germany currently gets 23 percent of its energy from nuclear power — about as much as the U.S. Its ambitious plan to shut down its reactors will require at least €150 billion ($210 billion) investment in alternative energy sources, which experts say will likely lead to higher electricity prices.

Germany now gets 17 percent of its electricity from renewable energies, 13 percent from natural gas and more than 40 percent from coal. The Environment Ministry says in 10 years renewable energy will contribute 40 percent of the country’s overall electricity production. …

Last year, German investment in renewable energy topped €26 billion ($37 billion) and secured 370,000 jobs, the government said. …. Schuetz insists that “we can replace nuclear energy even before 2020 with renewable energies, producing affordable and ecologically sound electricity.”

But someone will have to foot the bill. “Consumers must be prepared for significantly higher electricity prices in the future,” said Wolfgang Franz, head of the government’s independent economic advisory body. Merkel last week also warned that tougher safety rules for the remaining nuclear power plants “would certainly mean that electricity gets more expensive.”

If Germany can do it, the world can do it. Renewable generation will need to be combined with better conservation and efficiency to offset greater costs. And as renewable energy sources are widely deployed the costs will come down.

Germany is going to be an inspiring example to other countries. But as with climate change, those who lead the way are still put at risk by those that lag behind…

All of my posts for March will finish with this note. While life goes on as usual outside Christchurch, let our thoughts be with those who are coping with the aftermath, with the sorrow of so many who were lost, and with the challenges ahead.

31 comments on “Germany abandons nuclear power ”

  1. ghostwhowalksnz 1

    So this is the second time Germany is going to ‘abandon nulclear energy for good’

    They went back on their previous attempt to do so and that was with the Greens in government.

    Cant say this weakly worded commitment will be any different.
    Relying on an overseas newspaper account, which mostly reports statements from the renewable energy industry, often is far from the truth

    • r0b 1.1

      Yes, was chatting to a German friend this morning and he pointed this out.

      I think if anything I’m reassured that Germany is making this commitment now, even *without* the Greens in government. It means that the bottom line has shifted on all sides of the political spectrum. This time, I think they’ll get it right…

  2. Bored 2

    Reading the Archdruidreport this morning was illumunating. He made the point that for less than the cost of the projected additional nuclear capacity the US plans to build, every home could be retrofitted with energy saving (insulation etc) and the power would not be needed.

    I wonder much the same about the wisdom of us building a dam on the Mokihinui (close to the Alpine fault) when the capital cost might be better spent saving power.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      Of course… of all the arguments for and against nuclear power, the most important got buried. Turns out that nuclear is the most insanely expensive option ever.

      The entire industry was always a monstrous boondoggle dependent on massive corporate welfare forever.

    • Shane Gallagher 2.2

      Well the obvious problem with THAT solution is that big industry doesn’t get to make money from it. See? That is why it cannot be done…

    • Draco T Bastard 2.3

      Conservation of energy is certainly what we need to be looking seriously at. IMO, making new built houses up to Passive House standards should be mandatory and existing housing should be brought as close as possible. Inefficient housing (a lot of NZ’s present housing stock) needs to be outlawed.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    “If it’s unsafe for babies now, how long before it is unsafe for children, then for adults?”
    The type of radiation being detected comes from Iodine, which has a very short half-life of ~8 days. The thyroid gland in the body requires iodine (which is why we put it in salt – to prevent goitres) and as such will collect up any iodine that gets in the body and store it, rather than simply having the radioactive isotopes pass through.

    Basically the reason why it’s dangerous for babies is that they’re still growing and obviously much smaller, so a few radioactive particles will have a much bigger affect on their body. I’m sure that there is some dose rate at which adults will be affected, but it’ll probably be considerably higher than what they’re detecting now.

    “Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a “catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.””
    Which is completely overstating how bad the situation is.

    “If Germany can do it, the world can do it. ”
    Except France, who say they can’t.

    • r0b 3.1

      Interesting on the iodine metabolism. So can anyone guarantee that this will not reach levels harmful to adults?

      I agree that Merkel’s quote is well over the top.

      France? Of course they can, if they have the will.

      • Shane Gallagher 3.1.1

        If there is Iodide radiation there is also Cesium and Strontium as they are all in the spent fuel rods – and there is nothing to protect you from those. Personally from reading all the analyses I think it is worse than they are admitting but not as bad as Angela Merkel is saying… I hope so anyway.

        • Lanthanide 3.1.1.1

          Yes, caesium has been detected in the atmosphere, not sure about strontium but probably.

          I don’t think caesium has been detected in any food or water. If it had been, then the public health risk would be considerably greater due to it’s much longer half life (30 years). Unless they’re just not telling anyone.

  4. ianmac 4

    “…………….and more than 40 percent from coal.” Does this mean that the need for coal fired energy will have to increase to compensate for the loss of nuclear? And I thought that China was condemned for its use of coal fired energy production. Must have misunderstood.

    • Bored 4.1

      Theres a probable bright side to the coal issue. It is that it is a peaking resource and the easy stuff has mainly gone, which means the EROEI will make the mining of what is left harder, slower and more costly.

      Add to the above scenario the increasing cost and rarity of petroleum and the downstream effect on the price of digging out coal. The symptom tends towards an economic scenario where we get financial volatility, meaning that China or where ever might not have the cash to spend on digging or the economic demand to justify it.

      • Lanthanide 4.1.1

        “China or where ever might not have the cash to spend on digging or the economic demand to justify it”
        Luckily China has lots and lots of people who don’t mind working in horrible conditions as long as they get their basic needs met. China will always be able to dig up coal with what amounts to slave labour if they really want to.

        • Bored 4.1.1.1

          No doubt, but if your market is not one of the slaves in China, but the rest of the world (as it is now and is unlikely to change greatly) and they are broke, why would you allocate slave resources in mines?

          • Lanthanide 4.1.1.1.1

            If it gets to the choice of “send slaves into the mines to dig up coal, or go without elecitricty”, then sending slaves into the mines seems like a good choice.

            I’m talking about a hypothetical future where there isn’t much international trade anywhere. But the humans are still going to exist, and they’re probably still going to want electricity.

  5. Germany now gets 17 percent of its electricity from renewable energies, 13 percent from natural gas and more than 40 percent from coal.

    But, yeah, nuclear – that’s obviously where they need to be taking some action. After all, we just had demonstrated that an aging nuclear plant run in a not-particularly-safe fashion by a dodgy company can take a magnitude 9 quake and a 10-meter tsunami without killing anybody, so it’s really important that… er, what, exactly?

    • r0b 5.1

      We also just had demonstrated that nuclear power plants, which we were told were completely safe, are failing with dangerous consequences about once every 10 – 15 years.

      Different excuse each time, wonder what it will be next time?

      So it’s really important that, er, we replace both nuclear and fossil with renewable generation and much greater efficiency / conservation.

      • Bored 5.1.1

        Psyco talks about run by dodgy companies….rOb you talk about hazard frequency. Basically what we are saying is that given that the material remains a hazard for thousands of years it becomes statistically highly likely that something bad will happen….for the next bit of startling maths, what are the chances of the dodgy company being around to fix it in 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years? The historic record might give you a clue.

        Nuclear power advocates need to answer the above questions based upon risk management and responsibility criteria.

      • Psycho Milt 5.1.2

        …failing with dangerous consequences about once every 10 – 15 years.

        Disregarding totalitarian regimes that file people under “plenty more where they came from,” we’ve had two failures that caused no significant damage over 50+ years, with the latest being pretty much a worst-case scenario caused by a major earthquake and tsunami. Neither are likely to be an issue for nuclear plants in Germany. Coal, on the other hand, kills people every year and is a major greenhouse gas contributor – if one of these two fuels needs something doing about it, coal’s the one to start with.

        So it’s really important that, er, we replace both nuclear and fossil with renewable generation and much greater efficiency / conservation.

        Sure. But suppose Germany cans all the nuclear plants and suddenly needs to find renewable generation for 17% of the requirements of a heavily-industrialised country with 80 million people living in it. That’s a shitload of windmills. My money would be on the slack being taken up by coal and natural gas ahead of renewables – do you seriously imagine otherwise?

        • Lanthanide 5.1.2.1

          “My money would be on the slack being taken up by coal and natural gas ahead of renewables – do you seriously imagine otherwise?”

          Definitely it would be, initially. Of the renewable forms of energy, only geothermal and hydropower are actually base-load, which is what nuclear plants provide. So replacing nukes with wind turbines or solar power isn’t a straight 1 for 1 replacement – you’ll need a much higher ‘nameplant’ generation capacity in solar and wind to meet the same actual production of nuclear plants.

  6. Peter 6

    I attempt to follow the alternative energy issues strictly as a layman. From all accounts the Germans have become the world leader in solar power despite having a pitiful level of sunshine in terms of hours and strength. If anyone can become nuclear free they can!

    How did they become solar leaders? First you identify the issue (for Germany not wanting to be reliant on imported energy), develop a plan, no doubt orchestrated by their very influential Green movement. Then you figure out how to implement it and come up with a long term feed-in-tariff system that encourages new ideas, innovation, employment and ultimately exports. It sounds old fashion but it seems to work, you have created something out of nothing. It even sounds like good Government!

    If that’s all too hard simply bury your head in the sand, wait for market signals, such as petrol price rises, and then ………..?

  7. Drakula 7

    Peter; It seems the world is doing just that putting their heads in the sand, there is a lot to be said for turning the consumer into an energy producer.

    Why?

    ECONOMIC INCENTIVE to serve an environmentally sustainable plan.
    Put another way, we the consumers are going to save money by putting up our own wind turbines, solar panels, hydro generators.

    It can happen but huge amounts of capital needs to be invested in this industry to get the unit cost per purchase to an affordable level.

    Of course this is the biggest fear of the power monopolies !!!!!!!!

  8. Drakula 8

    WARNING!!

    I have just got word from Democracy Now that Chile has just signed an agreement with the US to build nuke plants in that country!!!!!!!

    Along the MOST active fault line in the world!!!! Don’t you all find that a bit fuckin insane?????

    I mean don’t they read the newspapers or the blogs? Havn’t they heard of the Fukushima plant melting down?

    For those who think that nuclear reactors are relatively safe; think again where there is plutonium there is strontium THE single most deadly toxin known!!!!!Plus heavy water and you would have thermo nuclear explosion – – – something like a hydrogen bomb.

    And hydrogen bombs were Edward Teller’s (Dr. Strangelove) favourite toy very usefull technology you can blast away mountain ranges, create harbours or create a bomb as small as Hiroshima or as big as – – -well the sky is the limit!!!

    And that is all a reactor is a controlled nuclear bomb.

    Na get rid of them there is a strong correlation between cancer and nuclear radiation and Canterbury is a hot spot; could that radiation have come from Muroroa???????

    • Lanthanide 8.1

      I think you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. H-bombs, or hydrogen bombs, are nuclear warheads that have an initial fission stage that is used to create a fusion reaction of hydrogen to hydrogen to create helium, giving off huge amounts of energy in the process (the most of any nuclear reaction), the same process by which stars create energy.

      If it were as easy as using strontium (not actually the most deadly toxin ever, btw) and heavy water to make nuclear fusion, we’d be doing it right now.

  9. Drakula 9

    Lan; You are not wrong but a reactor that is built of rods of charged plutonium has to let off fission in order to create energy and it’s that process that I am likening to a nuke.

    Normally the water is seperated but if the walls have leaked, well wouldn’t it be likened to thermal?

    But that is rather beside the point of my blog isn’t it? Or do you think that nuclear power plants in chile is a good idea. Or bring on the slave state in your dystopian vision!!

    I think it would be well worth replacing nuclear technology.

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      I think it would be well worth replacing nuclear technology.

      Bearing in mind that a single 1200MWe nuclear reactor will easily put out as much electricity as 600-700 wind turbines running at full tilt. And the reactor can do that 24/7, whereas the windfarm has to rely on the whims of the elements.

      And that’s a windfarm with not quite as many wind turbines as the eye can see, but you get the idea.

  10. todd 10

    Some sentiments from people in Japan:

    http://sooda.jp/qa/348797

    I feel as if information is too limited, and anxiety.

    With a sense of uncertainty, which is reported on assuming the worst.

    I want to abolish nuclear power in Japan.

    If there is a variety of evils, I think the government and TEPCO bear full responsibility.

  11. Barbara 11

    Why would Germany abandon Nuclear power? It’s right next door to France, and last time a major European country vastly invested in Green energy it was a complete failure. Is attacking nuclear energy really good for New Zealand when we only need one nuclear power station to provide enough energy for the entire country?

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