To Nuke or Not to Nuke: That is the EU Debate

Map shows nuclear power plants in Germany
Image via Wikipedia

The nuclear problems in Japan caused by the earthquake and tsunami are creating their own tsunami in Europe by raising anew the long simmering debate over the future of nuclear power in the EU.  While the Germans and the French see eye to eye on many things having to do with how the EU should be run, nuclear energy is not one of them.

In a March 15-16, 2011 survey sponsored by EDF after the Japan earthquake of March 11th, 55 percent of French surveyed said they opposed shutting down nuclear power plants in France while 42 percent were in favor. The French, of course, get more than 70% of their electric energy from nuclear power and Électricité de France (EDF) is a giant of the industry operating plants around the world as is Areva the nuclear power plant builder-operator.  Insulting nuclear energy in France is like trashing its wine.

But Germany has had a phobia over nuclear power for many years since Chernobyl despite getting about 23% of its electricity from nuclear sources.  The long time German plan has been to “grow out” of its dependence on nuclear energy by growing into its potential for renewables.  Germany has used its feed-in-tariff (FiT), a 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour tax on all electricity sold to customers to finance its subsidies for renewables.  The German goal is to increase the share of electricity produced from renewable sources from 17% today to 40% by 2020.

Nervousness over the risks of relying on imported Russian natural gas has kept gas fired power generation to about 13%.  But the skunk at the German energy party is its continued dependence upon coal for more than 40% of energy produced.  This large share of coal fired power generation stands in the way of achieving its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and makes the strategy of shutting down German’s nuclear power plants more risky.

Nonetheless, the German reaction to the Fukushima Dai-ichi tragedy was to shut down 7 of 17 reactors for three months for safety inspections and further risk analysis while the German government tests public reaction to the costs and risks of speeding up the shut-down of the nuclear portfolio.  Of course, all of this is happening in the midst of elections in Germany so the parties are testing the public tolerance for rising energy costs on top of all the other economic uncertainties.

Shuttering German’s nuclear power plants will not be cheap. The government estimates it will cost more than euro150 billion or US$210 billion to replace the nukes in addition to the estimated euro75 billion ($107 billion) by 2030 to build large scale offshore wind farms.  But this pits Germany’s fast growing solar energy industry now around 17 GW, with 7 GW added in 2010 against the offshore wind farms with a capacity of 25.7 GW today and another 25 GW of off-shore potential expected by 2020 for a share of the FiT subsidies that produced euro8.2 billion (US$11.7 billion) in 2010 and a forecasted euro13.5 billion (US$19.2 billion) for 2011.  But these subsidies have also been a drag on the budget deficit and subject to rapid policy changes as we have already seen in Germany and Spain before it.

But there are 143 other problems for the Germans. Even if they succeed in retiring all 17 of their nuclear power plants there are still 143 other nuclear power plants across Europe that are not going away anytime soon.  German politicians find themselves squeezed between conflicting policy goals and economic realities.  They can satisfy the anti-nuke crowd at home by shutting Germany’s reactors, but it will cost utility customers and taxpayers big time to do so.

Then adding insult to the injury of higher costs, Germany will still be neighbors with nuclear power plants in France and elsewhere so the risks Germans obsess over remains the same.  Chancellor Merkel’s approach to that dilemma is to push for “common EU nuclear safety standard” which the French and others interpret as a possible EU tax increase to help the Germans pay for shutting their own nukes while making it prohibitively expensive for nuclear power elsewhere.  That will be a tough sale even for the persistent Germans!

What about emissions reduction? Nuclear power is a condition precedent to greenhouse gas emissions reduction.  So says the International Energy Agency warning EU countries not to rush to judgment about closing their nuclear power plants in reaction to the Japan crisis.  The IEA says reducing nuclear power production will inevitably lead to increasing use of coal and natural gas and rising emissions.

Consumers must be prepared for significantly higher electricity prices in the future,” said Wolfgang Franz, head of the German government’s independent economic advisory body.

Now that will be music to the ears of German voters.


1 Comment

  1. The EU should look into the Canadian Invention of GRAVITY CONTROL for energy.
    It is based on the technology of the Flying Saucer which I disvcovered on April 20, 1967, and patented.
    Originally offered to Nasa to apply it to the Shuttles, that thereupon woud be at the ISS in one hour or the Moon in a few hours, it was rejected in 2003
    It would make the Rocket Industry obsolete.
    I was very disappointed. The invention was evaluated by the HUDSON Institute at $600 Billion if the USA would have it before Russia. The Space War was still on!
    Being slow of mind, I did not realize until a few weeks ago, that it could be used for the generation of electric power.

    These SPHERES under a Flying Saucer are the Propulsion units, that lift and propel the vehicle.
    A 1000 ton weight could be lifted 300 meters with a moderate amount of power.
    When that weight comes down, it could be used to generate thousands of kilowatts at the lowest possible price of 1 cent per Kilowatt or less..
    It would replace the dependency of gas.
    It would also create thousands of jobs, as you would need many electricians to change
    gas operated units to electrical ones.
    The structures needed, would be two silos, side by side. They could also be buried to ground level, not marring the landscape.
    It does not need water or fuel to run.
    The Gravity Control Units (GCU’s) would be mounted under the weights, pushing it up to maximum height.
    Then the GCU eould be electrrically disconnected in silo#1, allowing GRAVITY to pull the weight down, while activating the generator(s)
    When nearly at the bottom. the Silo #2 would be activated, while also repowering the GCU in Silo # 1 and keep on activating trhe Genrator().. USW.
    I am trying to get funding to build one demo unit.
    It would be less tha $1 million that I need. It would take a few months after I get the permit to build it.
    A Nuclear Unit costs $6 Billion to construct in a few years time.
    A GCU Station would take a few months
    THe GCU’s would be LEASED, to give the investors and Taxman their due.
    Read more about it at: > One Terminal Capacitor Joseph Hiddink<
    Contact me by mail : Mr.Joseph Hiddink, 147 Burcher Rd., Ajax, Ontario, Canada. L1S 2R6
    Please translate, Mein Deutch ist etwas ruestig.
    Joseph Hiddink.

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