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How Germany Phased Out Nuclear Power, Only to Get Mugged by Reality
The New Republic ^ | October 31, 2011 | Aaron Wiener

Posted on 10/31/2011 3:50:34 PM PDT by neverdem

Berlin, Germany—For years, environmentalists in America have looked longingly to Germany. There, across the Atlantic, lay a small, cold, gray country whose solar energy production dwarfed big, sunny America’s, a nation that last year pledged to get 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by mid-century while Americans proved unable to agree on energy legislation even a fraction as ambitious. Yet in bowing to the country’s strong anti-nuclear movement, Germany appears to have suddenly gone off track: Within the last year the country has gone from a net exporter of energy to a net importer, and the carbon intensity of the energy it purchases has risen as well. Now, with its energy politics in turmoil, Germany is serving as a very different sort of model for environmentalists: how not to go green.

At the root of Germany’s current energy struggle is its nuclear power politics. Reports tend to cite Japan’s Fukushima disaster as the starting point of the country’s nuclear turmoil, but really the story begins a lot earlier, in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl plant’s 1986 nuclear meltdown in Germany’s backyard galvanized the anti-nuclear movement and led the country’s center-left parties to commit to phasing out nuclear power—a pledge they fulfilled when the Nuclear Exit Law went into effect in 2002 and mandated the end of nuclear power in Germany within 20 years.

When Angela Merkel’s administration changed course last year and moved to extend the operating life of the country’s nuclear plants, tens of thousands of environmental advocates flocked to Berlin from all over the country (and even from abroad) to protest the reversal. With opinion polls showing that Germans opposed the nuclear extension by nearly a two-to-one margin and Merkel’s political rivals promising to overturn her new policy, the German nuclear industry seemed to be hanging on by a thread.

Then came Fukushima. The German government really only needed the slightest excuse to nix its plans for a nuclear future; instead, it was given a tsunami. Four days after the earthquake struck Japan, and before the implications of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown were fully understood, the government shut down eight of the country’s 17 nuclear reactors. Two weeks later, the Merkel administration announced that the remainder of Germany’s nuclear power would be phased out by 2022.

Environmentalists suddenly had a much more resounding victory over nuclear power than they’d thought possible a month earlier. They cheered the news—for a time, at least. But over the next six months, it became increasingly clear that the fidgety administration, worried by declining poll numbers, had failed to think through the consequences of its abrupt U-turn. Last year, Germany was a net exporter of electricity, drawing from a diverse range of energy sources led by coal, but with substantial contributions from low-emissions nuclear (23 percent of the total mix) and renewable energy sources (17 percent). With half of the country’s nuclear plants suddenly yanked from the grid in March, however, Germany became a net importer of electricity almost overnight.

The resulting economic loss from the shift has been disconcerting for a country with near-zero growth. Compounding the problem, electricity prices have risen for consumers, and it could cost the country’s four operators of nuclear plants more than $40 billion simply to shut the nuclear reactors down. To environmentalists, though, the greater concern has been the question of where Germany is getting its new power to make up for the country’s energy shortfall.

Germany’s environmental activists had hoped that shutting down nuclear plants would clear the way for the development of renewable energy sources. The Merkel government has laid out a set of ambitious targets to that effect, but not the proper mix of incentives and infrastructure to ensure that renewables make up for the current energy shortfall. Indeed, Laszlo Varro, the head of the gas, coal, and power markets division at the International Energy Agency, told me the end of nuclear power ultimately won’t have a discernible impact on renewable generation. That’s because the main obstacle to renewable development isn’t competition from nuclear power, but the challenge of transmission—how to bring electricity from offshore wind farms in northern Germany to the factories in the south. The nuclear phaseout, Varro argues, will only exacerbate this challenge by removing nuclear plants from southern Germany and increasing the north-south energy imbalance.

The energy shortage that’s hit Germany since the nuclear shutdowns is indeed taking place mainly in the country’s industry-heavy south, says Konrad Kleinknecht, the former climate commissioner of the German Physical Society, the world’s largest organization of physicists, and it will require more fossil fuel power generation as a result. “Where are we supposed to get the rest of our energy in the next ten years?” Kleinknecht asks. “If nuclear power plants are taken off the grid, we’ll need to build around 30 coal and gas plants, mostly in the south.”

Varro estimates that the nuclear phaseout in Germany has caused a 25-million-ton annual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. The culprit, in large part, is the new coal power that has come online to meet the shortfall. “In the past couple of months,” Varro says, “coal-fired power generation was up in Germany because they shut down the old nuclear power plants from one day to the next, and you can’t build renewable power from one day to the next.”

Meanwhile, the biggest financial winner from Germany’s nuclear moratorium, Varro says, is nuclear power outside Germany. Since March, Germany has imported considerably more electricity from neighboring countries like France that rely on nuclear power sources. It’s also turned to power from coal-fired plants in Poland and the Czech Republic.

None of this means that Germany has necessarily fallen off course in meeting its ambitious renewable energy targets (the 2050 goal involves many factors, and it’s too soon to judge the ongoing progress with any certainty). But the country’s chances of meeting its emissions goals will almost certainly suffer. That’s because replacing low-emissions nuclear power with wind or solar doesn’t actually reduce emissions—and replacing it with coal and gas only worsens the situation. “Reaching the carbon dioxide emissions target will be more difficult and more expensive after the moratorium,” Varro predicts.

This is no doubt a source of dismay among the very environmental activists who pushed for, and succeeded in bringing about, the nuclear phaseout. But it’s not the only reason for disappointment. Indeed, anti-nuclear activists employed another main argument for the end of nuclear power in Germany: safety concerns in the event of a meltdown or attack. On that count, however, the phaseout has also proved problematic.

It’s true that the risk of a meltdown within Germany is diminished as the country’s nuclear plants are decommissioned. But now German electricity consumers are suddenly providing more business to nuclear power plants in neighboring countries that are, in some cases, not as well regulated as their German counterparts. Instead of producing nuclear power itself, for instance, Germany is importing power from plants like the accident-prone one in the Czech city of Temelin, just over 60 miles from the German border.

To be sure, as a laboratory for an energy experiment of this magnitude, Germany does have some advantages. It’s a highly industrialized country with a substantial investment in renewable energy sources and a history of beating expectations. And to some environmentalists who believe strongly in the need to eliminate nuclear power, the experiment has been a worthwhile, if perhaps a bit hasty, effort toward a necessary end. But many energy experts are more skeptical. In a survey this month of experts in 21 countries by the London-based World Energy Council, none of the respondents said they expected Germany to meet all of its stated energy goals, and more than three-quarters predicted a weakening of the Germany economy over the coming decade as a result of the nuclear phaseout. “It’s really a catastrophe,” Kleinknecht told me.

Earlier this month in Bonn, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen heaped praises on the German energy project. The country’s energy policy, he said, “could serve as an interesting example to other countries.” Röttgen is right that the world’s environmentalists have their eyes on Germany. It’s just that the example the country is setting might not be the one he intended.

Aaron Wiener is a journalist living in Berlin and a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Germany; Japan; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: energy; fission; fukushima; fusion; germany; nuclearenergy; nuclearpower; renewableenergy

1 posted on 10/31/2011 3:50:39 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Be careful what you wish for - redux.


2 posted on 10/31/2011 3:59:41 PM PDT by Oatka ("A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves." –Bertrand de Jouvenel)
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To: neverdem

Frau Merkel has made a politically-correct but incredibly stupid and short-sighted decision.


3 posted on 10/31/2011 4:03:43 PM PDT by bigbob
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To: neverdem

European winters are long, cold and dark. Hope they have fun freezing in it reading by candlelight and eating eating out of cans. Not saying anything about bathing of course.


4 posted on 10/31/2011 4:05:12 PM PDT by SkyDancer ("If You Don't Like What I Say Or Do, Tough, Deal With It")
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To: neverdem
The only hope for the U.S.; hoping our competitors shoot themselves in the head before we do likewise. Now if somebody could just convince the Chinese of the hazards of coal and nuclear energy. Why did the West get only the stupid communists running things?
5 posted on 10/31/2011 4:13:11 PM PDT by throwback ( The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid)
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To: bigbob
A few years ago, Europe had an extended drought that dropped the rivers enough to start them worrying about water for reactor cooling.

And, of course, putting warm water back into the lower and slower rivers.

6 posted on 10/31/2011 4:19:06 PM PDT by Calvin Locke
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To: neverdem

Germany May Be Importing Nuclear Power to Meet Energy Needs
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,754957,00.html

But don’t worry, just like California who imports carbon based and nuclear energy, Germany is still ‘green’.


7 posted on 10/31/2011 4:22:43 PM PDT by Lorianne
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To: neverdem; All

Good article..just thought of a somewhat related question. What have European countries, like Germany and France, been doing with their spent fuel rods. Is there a central storage facility? In the US, we can’t get Yucca MT up and running...what are they doing in Europe?


8 posted on 10/31/2011 4:24:42 PM PDT by ken5050 (Cain/Gingrich 2012!!! because sharing a couch with Pelosi is NOT the same as sharing a bed with her)
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To: bigbob
Frau Merkel has made a politically-correct but incredibly stupid and short-sighted decision.

Despite the brilliance of Germans in some areas (automobile production) they have a stupid streak in them a mile wide. I'm part German and know the people and the country well. The lunatic environmental movement has captured a good many people in Germany and it's now to the point that it's completely out of hand. The decisions made on Nuclear Power aren't just shortsighted and stupid but they border on the brink of madness. The Germans are gonna suffer and suffer big time. They are gonna pay for their stupidity in a way in manner that will shake the country down to its foundations.

This goes to show you the power that ideology has to "trump" intelligence. The Germans deserve whatever comes their way in realm of suffering. They must suffer and suffer greatly before they come to their senses. That part seems all to familiar to them. Sure glad my ancestors made the boat ride.
9 posted on 10/31/2011 4:26:41 PM PDT by truthguy (Good intentions are not enough.)
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To: ken5050
Good article..just thought of a somewhat related question. What have European countries, like Germany and France, been doing with their spent fuel rods. Is there a central storage facility? In the US, we can’t get Yucca MT up and running...what are they doing in Europe?

Sending them to Iran?

joke

10 posted on 10/31/2011 4:44:18 PM PDT by Steely Tom (Obama goes on long after the thrill of Obama is gone)
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To: neverdem
A couple of years ago, we visited Germany for the first time after having lived there many years ago.

It was shocking. In our beautiful rural area the marvelous countryside was despoiled by these huge windmill generators both spinning and not spinning. They were huge, ugly as sin, and made the previously gorgeous countryside look like a version of propeller hell.

The Germans have gone environmentally crazy, despoiling their unsurpassed countryside with such a useless scheme.

11 posted on 10/31/2011 5:00:29 PM PDT by Gritty (Liberalism is like a deadly virus or parasite. It needs a host it uses and abuses.-Ellis Washington)
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To: ken5050

France reprocesses their spent fuel. That way the expended fuel is recycled into new, fresh fuel. That is done in a breeder reactor, which our glorious President Carter banned us from doing, as breeder reactors and create the dreaded thing called ‘plutonium’.

EEK, plutonium!!!


12 posted on 10/31/2011 5:07:58 PM PDT by gogogodzilla (Live free or die!)
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To: gogogodzilla

Central planning if bad, but central planning based of ferry tales and unicorn ranches is really bad. Fails every time it it tried.
Now they have a double whammy..pay for the PIIGS and imported power.


13 posted on 10/31/2011 5:11:30 PM PDT by Oldexpat
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To: neverdem
Western Civilization has gone insane.
Socialism is a proven failure, yet they embrace it.
A godless society that worships nature over man.
Devoid of Christ, they create a vacuum that invites islamic and atheistic growth.

At least America seems to be a decade behind Europe in their lemming like march off the cliff -- but we seem to have the same forces driving our regression.

14 posted on 10/31/2011 5:11:35 PM PDT by El Cid (Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house...)
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To: steelyourfaith

ping


15 posted on 10/31/2011 5:25:45 PM PDT by Fractal Trader
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To: neverdem

First order of business should be to jerk the electric meters from the morons who advocate this and forbid them from ever being in possession of electricity again.


16 posted on 10/31/2011 5:26:45 PM PDT by Clay Moore (The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of a fool to the left. Ecclesiastes 10:2)
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To: neverdem

Green is the new Red.


17 posted on 10/31/2011 5:32:32 PM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: All

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18 posted on 10/31/2011 5:34:39 PM PDT by musicman (Until I see the REAL Long Form Vault BC, he's just "PRES__ENT" Obama = Without "ID")
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To: Fractal Trader; Nervous Tick; SteamShovel; Tunehead54; golux; tubebender; Genesis defender; ...
Thanx for the ping Fractal Trader !

 


Beam me to Planet Gore !

19 posted on 10/31/2011 5:38:02 PM PDT by steelyourfaith (If it's "green" ... it's crap !!!)
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To: ken5050
What have European countries, like Germany and France, been doing with their spent fuel rods.

Check out the La Hague reprocessing plant in France. That's the way to go. We developed this technology and the wackos have driven it from these shores. A terribly ironic and tragic turn.

20 posted on 10/31/2011 5:45:07 PM PDT by chimera
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To: neverdem

Perhaps Germany is seeking to match the USA in de-industrialization. Next will be the induction into the third world. Well, I guess not. With the USA and Germany going down the de-industrial tubes there won’t be any more First World.


21 posted on 10/31/2011 6:08:06 PM PDT by arthurus (Read Hazlitt's "Economics In One Lesson.")
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22 posted on 10/31/2011 6:12:12 PM PDT by TheOldLady (FReepmail me to get ON or OFF the ZOT LIGHTNING ping list)
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23 posted on 10/31/2011 6:28:07 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: neverdem
reality, is a b!tch...
24 posted on 10/31/2011 6:35:24 PM PDT by Chode (American Hedonist - *DTOM* -ww- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: neverdem

Once we replace The Usurping Marxist Onada with a real conservative America will be in the cat bird seat again.


25 posted on 10/31/2011 6:36:36 PM PDT by dools0007world
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To: central_va

Environmentalists are watermelons, I tells ya!

Green on the outside, red on the inside.


26 posted on 10/31/2011 7:48:09 PM PDT by gogogodzilla (Live free or die!)
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To: neverdem

Thanks for the ping!


27 posted on 10/31/2011 9:47:13 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: truthguy

It is because environmentalism is the religion of the left. Germans abandoned Christianity, but everyone worships something (or someone). For the left, the new religion is the green movement.


28 posted on 10/31/2011 10:31:52 PM PDT by Pining_4_TX ( The state is the great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else. ~)
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To: Oatka

Cheap energy = growth. You cannot undo reality.


29 posted on 11/01/2011 3:39:01 AM PDT by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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To: El Cid

Schools haven’t taught Western Civ in years.


30 posted on 11/01/2011 3:40:47 AM PDT by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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To: decimon; Kevmo; AdmSmith; AnonymousConservative; Berosus; bigheadfred; Bockscar; ColdOne; ...

Pebble-bed architecture was first developed in Germany — just in time for the “greens” to protest it out of existence. Thanks neverdem.


31 posted on 11/03/2011 2:58:02 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (It's never a bad time to FReep this link -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: gogogodzilla

“That is done in a breeder reactor, which our glorious President Carter banned us from doing”

I think Carter was the worst Potus ever, but when it comes to nukes i’d belived anything he said. He graduated in nuclear physics, he was also part of the clean up crew at the chalk river nuclear labs. So i’d guess chances that he was right on THIS decision are good.


32 posted on 11/04/2011 4:44:43 PM PDT by buzzer
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To: Pining_4_TX

“Germans abandoned Christianity”
That already happened in 1517 when this moron Luther decided to abandon his membership in the only christian church that exists: the catholic one. All others are just members of strange cults that have only few connections to real catholic christianity.


33 posted on 11/04/2011 4:49:08 PM PDT by buzzer
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To: buzzer

Hmm, well we will have to agree to disagree on this one.


34 posted on 11/05/2011 4:29:10 PM PDT by Pining_4_TX ( The state is the great fiction by which everybody seeks to live at the expense of everybody else. ~)
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To: buzzer

“I think Carter was the worst Potus ever, but when it comes to nukes i’d belived anything he said.”

Because the “experts” are always right and never have an agenda. Would you be interested in investment opportunities that can double your money in as little as 3 months? I graduated in bank management and have years of investment experience. Send me $100.00 and I’ll share the investment advice with you.


35 posted on 01/06/2012 3:26:06 AM PST by listenhillary (Look your representatives in the eye and ask if they intend to pay off the debt. They will look away)
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