Germany plans to be free of nuclear power by the end of the decade. This would make them the biggest world power to do so. The country hopes to make up the energy-gap through efficiency and renewables but it also could make them more dependent on fossil fuels. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with the nuclear analyst Chris Gadomski of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Mass, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Germany has had a love-hate relationship with nuclear power. Reactors provide nearly a quarter of the industrial nation’s needs, and last fall Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was extending the life of nuclear power plants till 2035.
But now, in the shadow of the Fukushima disaster and under intense political pressure, Merkel has reversed that decision, and is ending the relationship, promising that Germany will pull the plug on all its nuclear plants by 2022. For reaction we turn to Chris Gadomski--lead nuclear analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
GADOMSKI: Quite frankly I'm not surprised at the decision to go ahead and do this, given the environmental interests and concerns of the German population. They have decided this is the way they want to go forward. It’s a very exciting time for the German people.
All nuclear power plants, like this one in Grafenrheinfeld, are scheduled to be shut down by 2022. (Wikimedia Commons)
GELLERMAN: Yeah, I guess the Green Movement is very strong there. Right after the Fukushima disaster, there were a quarter of a million people marching to demand that nuclear power be shut down.
GADOMSKI: Absolutely right. This is not surprising that when you have such a dramatic and terrible event as happened in Fukushima, that those people became increasingly concerned and have tried to go ahead and develop a strategy that would allow them to go forward without nuclear power. And it relies very heavily on development of renewable energy and a large deployment and commitment to solar power.
GELLERMAN: Germany has a huge amount of offshore wind and wind on land, and they’re planning a lot more solar, actually.
GADOMSKI: It’s very interesting that Germans really are responsible for the tremendous global surge in solar power installations by introducing a feed-in tariff which provided those individuals and those corporations in Germany with very attractive tariffs for selling the solar to the government.
GELLERMAN: They have 17 nuclear power plants in Germany. I guess they shut down seven after Fukushima. That leaves 10 nuclear power plants. Can they make that type of energy up using renewable energy resources?
GADOMSKI: Well, in addition to their emphasis on developing renewable energy technologies, the country is advocating a significant decrease in energy consumption- by 28 percent. They’re also going to have to go ahead and additionally import electricity from surrounding countries. Ironically, the electricity that would come from surrounding countries would be dirty coal from Poland, nuclear power from France, and perhaps nuclear power from the Czech Republic.
GELLERMAN: So does that mean that inevitably there’s going to be more CO2 and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere?
GADOMSKI: I think that that’s a fair assumption that if you’re going to eliminate 20 gigawatts of nuclear power, which produces electricity without any carbon, and you replace them with a percentage of fossil fuels, that it’s going to be a net increase in CO2 emissions.
GELLERMAN: Greenpeace says that Germany can actually shut down all its nukes within four years and have no brown outs, no black outs, and no increase in the long run in the amount of CO2 going into the air.
GADOMSKI: Well, that must be Greenpeace’s opinion. I’ve talked to other people who sort of dispute that and anticipate that there’ll be problems in the near-term keeping the country cool this summer. Germany’s a big industrial economy and so it’s going to require a lot of very dense energy capacity to go ahead and power that and keep it going. So I hope that Greenpeace is right. I’m a little bit skeptical that it will actually accomplish that, but it’s part of my job as an analyst to look carefully at the numbers and see what I think.
GELLERMAN: It’s hard to believe that Germany would make this kind of decision thinking it was going to jeopardize their industrial society.
GADOMSKI: When you look at something like this, you need to sort of examine the decision through what I call a steep analysis. And the steep analysis, it means look at the social, technological, economic, environmental and political components of the decision. In making those decisions, however, they’re creating some additional environmental and economic problems.
The price of electricity is one of the highest it is in Europe and we had forecast that it would increase it by six percent just as a result of closing down the seven nuclear power plants, and that further closure of nuclear power plants would add to the cost of electricity. There’ll be a lot of people who will be come unemployed by closing down those nuclear power plants and there are also going to be creating some environmental issues, possibly an increase CO2 emissions.
GELLERMAN: Are the German people going to - you know - ante up?
Frankfurt by night. Electricity in Germany is twice as expensive as in France, which depends largely on nuclear energy, and closing reactors will further raise prices. (Wikimedia Commons)
GADOMSKI: Well, apparently, it’s again, where do the priorities of the German people lie? Do the German priorities lie in spending less money for electricity, or in going green and doing away with nuclear? Apparently public support is very favorable in Germany for the decision, so apparently we can conclude then that they are more concerned with going forward in a green, non-nuclear way, than with spending less money for electricity.
We did a survey of those countries which had nuclear power, and were planning nuclear power, in the immediate week following Fukushima disaster and we saw, by and large, most of the countries were going to maintain and stay the course. However, as this situation in Fukushima continues to be more messy and continues to drag on, we’re seeing support for nuclear power starting to erode.
GELLERMAN: What about the United States?
GADOMSKI: Well the United States is a very, very surprising case. Most people don’t realize that there are five nuclear power plants under construction in the United States and we had forecast in the immediate wake of Fukushima that five of those nuclear power plants will be completed by 2020. How successful those plants are completed, i.e. on budget, on schedule, will sort of suggest whether or not there will be an additional second wave of nuclear power plants under construction in the United States.
GELLERMAN: Well Chris, thank you very much, I really appreciate it.
GADOMSKI: It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat and I wish the Germans the best of luck going forward and I hope that they are very successful going forward with their renewable energy future.
GELLERMAN: Chris Gadomski is lead nuclear analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
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