The Tragedy of Germany’s Energy Experiment

The country is moving beyond nuclear power. But at what cost?

Credit…Ronald Wittek/EPA, via Shutterstock

HAMBURG, Germany — Are the Germans irrational? Steven Pinker seems to think so. Professor Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel recently that if mankind wanted to stop climate change without stopping economic growth too, the world needed more nuclear energy, not less. Germany’s decision to step out of nuclear, he agreed, was “paranoid.”

My country has embarked on a unique experiment indeed. The Merkel government has decided to phase out both nuclear power and coal plants. The last German reactor is scheduled to shut down by the end of 2022, the last coal-fired plant by 2038. At the same time, the government has encouraged the purchase of climate-friendly electric cars — increasing the demand for electrical power. And despite efforts to save energy in the past decades, Germany’s power consumption has grown by 10 percent since 1990.

Skeptics fear that the country is on a risky path. Sufficient renewable energy sources might not be available in time to compensate for the loss of fossil and nuclear power. Though renewables account for around 40 percent of Germany’s electricity supply, there are limits to further expansion, for reasons that are political rather than technological.

In some rural parts of Germany, people are fed up with ever growing “wind parks”; more citizens are protesting new — and often taller — wind turbines in their neighborhoods. And there is growing resistance to the new paths needed to transport electricity from coasts to industrial centers. According to official calculations, close to 3,700 miles of new power lines are required to make Germany’s “Energiewende,” or energy revolution, work. By the end of 2018, only 93 miles had been built.

The plan risks more than a shortfall in supply. It could also prevent the country from dealing with climate change. By shutting down nuclear plants faster than those for coal, Germany may consign itself to dependence on fossil fuels, and all the damage to the climate they cause, for longer than necessary. Nevertheless, Germans’ opposition to nuclear power endures: 60 percent of them want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Paranoia is not exactly the right word to describe the attitude behind these figures, though. Rather, it is the very German trait of freezing when faced with a dilemma. For a nation that is as keen as ours to do what would undoubtedly be considered good, choosing between two evils — here, nuclear power and climate change — is a nearly insurmountable task.
Nuclear energy, to start with, is ultimately not safe, and the Germans have always been particularly uneasy with it. After the nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the “Atomausstieg,” the exit from nuclear energy once and for all. Why? Because, as Ms. Merkel put it back then: “The residual risk of nuclear energy can be accepted only if one is convinced that — as far as it is humanly possible to judge — it won’t come to pass.” After Fukushima, Ms. Merkel, a trained physicist, was no longer able to believe that a nuclear disaster would not occur. That there was a catastrophe even in a high-tech country like Japan made her change her mind.
But what about the near-certain catastrophic consequences of the second evil, climate change enhanced by coal-fired plants? Ms. Merkel recognized recently that “climate change is happening faster than we had thought a couple of years ago.” At the same time, she had to admit that Germany was struggling to fulfill the promises of the Paris climate accord: Despite new hopeful figures, the targeted 40 percent reduction of carbon emissions by the end of 2020 may not be met. One could argue that knowledge about the severity of climate change has deepened since 2011 and that countries should do everything they can to shift away from fossil fuels — yet there’s no sign that Ms. Merkel might change her mind about scrapping nuclear.

A return to nuclear appears to be completely unthinkable for the Green Party, the probable future coalition partner of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The Greens have their roots in the antinuclear movement of the early 1980s: Resistance against nuclear power is in the party’s DNA. But so is the fight against climate change.

Confronted with these competing convictions, the Greens seem to have no good answer. When Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the party, was asked on national television if the country should stick with nuclear power longer to allow a quicker shutdown of coal plants, she rejected the idea emphatically. “No one in this country wants nuclear waste buried in his neighbor’s garden,” she said.

That is certainly true. It is also true that nuclear energy enriches companies while shifting the risk of atomic waste and technological failure onto society. But this calculus is true for heavily carbon-dioxide-emitting coal power, too.

The tragedy about Germany’s energy experiment is that the country’s almost religious antinuclear attitude doesn’t leave room for advances in technology. Scientists in America, Russia and China believe that it is possible to run nuclear power plants on radioactive waste — which might solve the problem of how to store used fuel elements, one of the core arguments against nuclear. Certainly, these so-called fast breeder reactors have their dangers too. But as we transition to a completely renewable energy supply, wouldn’t they be a better alternative to coal and gas plants?

By shutting down its entire nuclear sector in a rush, Germany loses more opportunities than dangers. It forfeits the capacity to connect to a technology that might prove the safest and most climate-friendly mankind has yet seen. At the very least, using Germany’s existing nuclear plants would make an expeditious move away from fossil fuels possible.

Is it irrational not to do so? Maybe, maybe not. But letting this chance slip away could turn out to be one of the gravest mistakes of the Merkel era. SOURCE

 

Logic supports renewables, not nuclear

The latest edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report reiterates that clean power is taking the lead in the world’s energy system and nuclear is not only too costly a remedy for carbon emissions but too slow to deploy.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District operates this 2-MW PV power plant at Rancho Seco, California. Image: SMUD

Nuclear power has continued to decline and is becoming increasingly unable to compete on cost and deployment volume with clean energy sources such as solar and wind.

Those are the main conclusions of the 2019 edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), published each year by French nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider. In a gloomy outlook for the industry, the report adds the time needed to deploy new nuclear is further handicapping its ability to reduce carbon emissions.

The report’s authors are convinced the age of centralized, inflexible coal and nuclear power generation is coming to an end, hastening the demise of both energy sources.

Today’s study does point out, however, the 417 nuclear reactors in 31 countries still in operation have a record generation capacity of 370 GW, surpassing the 368 GW registered in 2006.

According to the latest survey, 272 reactors – two-thirds of the global fleet – have been operating for more than 30 years and in a decade or less most will have to be replaced by new generation capacity. “In the following decade to 2030, 188 units (165.5 GW) would have to be replaced – 3.2 times the number of start-ups achieved over the past decade, including 80 (19%) that have reached 41 years or more,” the report stated.

Uncompetitive

In the middle of this year, 28 reactors – 24 of them in Japan – are in long-term outage, indicating they have not generated power in the previous calendar year and first half of the current year. At least 27 of the 46 units under construction are behind schedule, mostly by several years, and only nine of the 17 units scheduled for start-up last year were connected to the grid.

Many reactors are uncompetitive against renewables in day-to-day electricity markets, in particular in the United States, and will shut down a decade or more before their licenses expire unless bailed out by new subsidies. The report explains that of “the prohibitive capital cost of [latest type] Gen-III+ reactors – on the order of $5,000-8,000-plus per kilowatt – 78-87% is for non-nuclear costs”. The authors add: “Thus, if the other 13-22% – the ‘nuclear island’ (nuclear steam supply system) – were free, the rest of the plant would still be grossly uncompetitive with renewables or efficiency. That is, even free steam from any kind of fuel, fission or fusion is not good enough because the rest of the plant costs too much.”

The advance of renewables, on the other hand, appears unstoppable, with solar and wind adding 96 GW and 49.2 GW of generation capacity, respectively, last year. Nuclear claimed an 8.8 GW share. Power output from solar and wind grew 13% and 29%, respectively, as nuclear saw meager growth of 2.4%. And while the estimated levelized cost of energy for utility scale solar has fallen by 88% in a decade – and wind 69% – the nuclear power price has surged 23%.

Even if a realistic carbon price were levied across the world, nuclear would trail renewables, according to today’s report.

“Remarkably, over the past two years the largest historic nuclear builder – Westinghouse – and its French counterpart AREVA went bankrupt,” the report states. Reactors that have extended their lifetimes and made safety-upgrade investments, and whose original construction costs were already amortized, still face rising operating costs as their age increases the frequency and expense of repairs. “Their operating-cost data are often commercial secrets, but aggregated data reveal fundamental uncompetitiveness against most electric-efficiency investments and many modern renewables,” adds the study.

Too slow to fight climate change

One of the biggest hurdles facing new nuclear is the time it takes to deploy the technology, according to the report. New plants take 5-17 years, much longer than the timescale for deploying utility scale solar or onshore wind. That means fossil-fuel plants continue to emit far more CO2 while awaiting nuclear replacements.

“Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt-hour so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors,” states this year’s WNISR. Renewables have a lower carbon cost per dollar and per year, the report concludes.

Fighting climate change and global warming requires scalable, mass produced and quickly deployed solutions such as solar and wind to be installed by diverse actors with little institutional preparation. Nuclear power, according to the study, is unable to meet any technical or operational need its low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper and faster.

“Whatever the rationales for continuing and expanding nuclear power, for climate protection it has become counterproductive and the new subsidies and decision rules its owners demand would dramatically slow this decade’s encouraging progress toward cheaper, faster options – more climate-effective solutions,” the report states.

Schneider and his team also stressed vested interests in the nuclear industry remain a major hurdle to renewables deployment and seek to strangle competing, cheaper energy sources in order to attract demand and capital. The study asks: “Why should a particular low-carbon solution, unable to compete after half a century, be awarded walled-garden markets and new subsidies unavailable to other low-carbon solutions?” SOURCE

Letter: When will Ontario end the Nuclear Energy fiasco?

OPG’s Pickering Nuclear to operate until 2024

Premier Ford, Ministers Rickford & Smith,

The entire world is realizing what an economic and environmental disaster that Nuclear energy has become and are turning away from it towards renewable energy sources from the sun, wind , geothermal and tides/waves.

Tell me how you can justify your ongoing and increasing support for this outdated relic of 20th century technology , nuclear, while destroying our 21st century technologies for clean electricity generation? You are on a course that will set our province back in time and cause economic ruin.

You have 3 years remaining in your term to correct this mistaken strategy by completing the White Pines windfarm to as it should have been, restoring the progress that was being made with renewable energy projects, jobs & industries, and moving us forwards rather than backwards.

We will be holding you and your party accountable for your actions and inactions from now until the next election in 2022. Please read this following report. Thank you.

Don  & Heather Ross  Milford, Ont

Nuclear power ‘seven decades of economic ruin’, says new report

RELATED:

No Nukes News, July 9, 2019

Chernobyl’s legacy imperils many thousands

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.


In Pripyat, a town abandoned 3 kms from Chernobyl: “I love you Pripyat, forgive me.” Image: By IAEA Imagebank, via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build– and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor. MORE

 

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