Fukushima Fallout: German Hypocrisy on Nukes?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/31/2011 12:01:00 AM
As someone with an interest in both the introduction of innovations and sources of energy, I have closely followed developments in the public acceptance of nuclear power. To be sure, this acceptance varies country by country. What's more, harrowing incidences alike those of the Fukushima power plant tend to elicit different responses.

A few weeks ago, I probed why the French have not really questioned their reliance on nuclear power despite Fukushima reminding us all of its obvious hazards. On a crudely instrumental level, the French would be shooting themselves in the foot if they themselves expressed reservations about nuclear power since they are the world's biggest users and exporters of the technology. How would it look like to prospective customers if France itself began doubting the safety of its atomic products and services? Given French pride in their engineering achievements, there's also an element of distancing--"our" nuclear plants are safer and are not in an earthquake zone besides.

An interesting contrast is Germany. To be sure, there have been many u-turns here. Chancellor Merkel's socialist predecessors decided to phase out this technology before the CDU decided to extend its operational life. However, the recent Japanese calamity has resulted in another reassessment that (they say) will result in the irrevocable closure of these plants. And on and on it goes:
Germany's coalition government has announced a reversal of policy that will see all the country's nuclear power plants phased out by 2022. The decision makes Germany the biggest industrial power to announce plans to give up nuclear energy. Environment Minister Norbert Rottgen made the announcement following late-night talks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel set up a panel to review nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima in Japan. There have been mass anti-nuclear protests across Germany in the wake of March's Fukushima crisis, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

Mr Rottgen said the seven oldest reactors - which were taken offline for a safety review immediately after the Japanese crisis - would never be used again. An eighth plant - the Kruemmel facility in northern Germany, which was already offline and has been plagued by technical problems, would also be shut down for good. Six others would go offline by 2021 at the latest and the three newest by 2022, he said. Mr Rottgen said: "It's definite. The latest end for the last three nuclear power plants is 2022. There will be no clause for revision.
Yes, whatever. While German deep greens may rejoice, there's the important matter of how Germany will replace the nearly 25% of its electricity needs accounted for by atom splicing. Yes, there will be the standard paeans to energy saving and renewable sources in this politically correct age. As I blogged earlier, though, it appears (non-CCS) King Coal is making a comeback to help fill the void. More questionable yet if eliminating nuclear power is really your goal is that the Germans appear to be buying more power from...the French. So, having let up on nuclear power, it looks like it's becoming more reliant on, er, others' nuclear power:
France became a net exporter of electricity to Germany last month after the Japanese atomic disaster and subsequent shutdown of German reactors reversed an electricity trading trend between Europe’s biggest markets. In April, France was a net exporter of power to Germany for the first time since the summer months of June, July and August last year, according to data published on the website of Reseau de Transport d’Electricite, the grid operator owned by Electricite de France SA, Europe’s biggest power generator.

Overall, French power imports from Germany outstripped exports last year. Power trading between the countries may change following German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in March to shut the country’s seven oldest reactors and today’s announcement of an exit from the power source by 2022.

EDF operates France’s 58 nuclear reactors which allow the country to be an net power exporter to European neighbors and provide relatively cheap electricity to customers at home. The state-controlled utility is developing a new atomic plant at Flamanville in Normandy and has plans for another in northern France at Penly. Since the Fukushima disaster in March, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing an election next year, has vowed to continue to invest in the atomic industry.

France, which relies on nuclear plants for about three- quarters of its power needs, exported a net 509 gigawatt hours to Germany last month compared with net imports of 618 gigawatts during the same month last year, RTE said. In the most recent month, Germany joined Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. in relying on France for more power imports than exports, the data indicates.
So, not only does Germany lose more energy independence via this move, but it too is buying nuclear power from its neighbour at a presumably higher cost. And of course, it's a ridiculous application of NIMBY--Not In My Back Yard. Not only are the Germans incentivizing the French to ramp up nuclear power production, but there is no wholesale safety improvement in moving nuclear power production to your next-door neighbour. You may not see the plants in your immediate surroundings, but it would be ludicrous to think fallout from a major accident in France would somehow skip Deutschland. And how exactly does increasing coal usage figure into a green economy?

The BBC also has an interesting piece on the politics of nuclear power in the Fatherland. As I said, Germany's policy makes little sense from an economic or environmental sense. Even if you're an environmentalist opposed to nuclear power, you'd probably agree.

UPDATE: Estimates place German phase-out of nuclear power as adding 20 to 40 million tons of carbon dioxide annually as it returns to fossil fuels. Talk about dubious reasoning.