Germany: Conflicted and Wavering Energy Policy

June 1st, 2014
in Op Ed, syndication

Written by

No Nukes - Yes Nukes...

In Germany, there had been a long history of civic opposition to the construction of nuclear electricity-generating plants. Even so, at peak there were 17 such plants in operation there. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 contaminated a broad swath of Germany, resulting in expensive cleanup efforts and a growing inclination to abandon "nuclear" entirely.

Follow up:

In 2002, a new law came into being which required that all nuclear generating plants in Germany be shut down by 2022. After Chancellor Merkel came to power, she succeeded in obtaining a revision of the law, to the extent that the end-date of the shutdown was extended by ten years, to 2032. Then the Fukushima disaster occurred in 2011. In Germany, the reaction to Fukushima prompted a reversion to the original plan, with a twist: 8 of the 17 nuclear plants were to be shut down immediately, and the other 9 by 2022. It was intended that the resultant shortfall in electricity production would be filled by solar energy, wind energy, and biomass (the latter of which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere). Germany has made great strides in the production of solar energy, to the point at which (in a Saturday test) solar accounted for 50% of the entire nation's electricity needs.

Electricity which is produced by solar energy and by wind energy is highly desirable in that there are no emissions of harmful gases into the atmosphere. Even so, solar doesn't produce much power when the sun doesn't shine, nor does wind - when there is no wind. There has to be a reliable backup that is available on call at all times. In response to this obvious need, Germany has embarked on a massive program to build electricity-generating plants to be powered by - you guessed it - coal! - or, more properly, by a low-grade type of "coal" called "lignite." While the new plants are expected to be state-of-the-art "clean," the result will be that carbon dioxide will be released into the air - which is not the case with nuclear, solar, or wind. And, of course, energy and natural resources are required for the manufacture of solar cells and wind turbines in the first place.

Ten of these new coal-burning plants are under construction, which equates to more new coal-burning capacity than was installed in Germany during the 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell. [Please note: "under construction," not "in operation."] These new plants do not spring up out of the ground overnight. At the same time, other and older coal-burning plants are being allowed to shut down. The conflicted result has been a shortfall in electricity production, and rising prices. The shutdown of nuclear-powered electricity generating plants and the follow-on cleanup is a very expensive and time-consuming process, too. You can't just bulldoze it down, take away the debris to a dump, level-out the ground and build apartments on it. It's not that simple.

Even though "solar" and "wind" will no doubt continue to be added to the German electrical grid, it does seem that, without nuclear and in the interest of reduction of reliance on Russia as a dependable (or not) source of natural gas, the only alternative for Germany is coal - and the resultant release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Is Germany "going backwards" in this respect? I leave it to you to decide.

The odd part is that, right next door to Germany, France produces more than 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, and about 17% of that comes from recycled nuclear fuel. France is the world's foremost exporter of electricity (presumably, much of that goes next door to Germany!), due to its very low cost of generation. France is a leader in the development and export of nuclear technology.

How about that! Intentionally, on one side of the border 75% of electricity comes from nuclear, while on the other side the plan calls for zero per cent from nuclear. The varying approaches of two neighbor-nations could hardly be more dramatically different. The conflicted, zigzag planning in Germany seems so unlike the Germans, who are known and respected worldwide for their technical excellence.

Even so, their plan probably can be made to work - painfully until such time as the Environmental Establishment in Germany succeeds in a boycott of "contaminated electricity" coming from "nuclear France." That might short-circuit everything. The Germans might even have to build even more coal-burning plants in order to cover the shortfall.









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