German Nuclear Power Politics: A Political Football
"We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power — or not to start using it — how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies."
I presume Chancellor Angela Merkel made this sound as if she was sincere, as she explained her sudden decision to phase out all nuclear power in Germany by 2022.
This is the second time Germany has announced it would end the use of nuclear power by 2022. Gerhard Schrőder's center-left SPD/Green coalition enacted legislation requiring this more than a decade ago, in 2000. Now Merkel, the leader of Germany's CDU/FDP center-right coalition group who reversed the Schrőder decision, is reversing her reverse.
Merkel explained the decision as if Germans see a way to achieve it and these other well known German priorities:
"We don't only want to renounce nuclear energy by 2022, we also want to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40 percent and double our share of renewable energies, from about 17 percent today to then 35 percent".
Keep in mind that German per capita CO2 emissions are already one half those of the US. Also: ten years of the most aggressive solar subsidies on the planet resulted in the addition of about one reactor's worth of electricity to German grids.
It seems more political will than is available at present will be required to sustain all these policies.
It is true that pressure to get rid of the nukes is greater than ever. The German anti nuclear movement succeeded in staging its largest ever demonstration with 250,000 protestors on the streets. Support for the most prominent anti nuclear political party, the Greens, surged in polls and in regional election results. The election in Baden-Wuerttemberg produced a Green led coalition state government. This is the first time there has been a Green Party Premier of any German state and this is the first Green led government at a level as high as this anywhere in the world. Baden-Wuerttemberg was said to be the "heartland" of support for Merkel's CDU/FDP coalition. The CDU governed there for the last 58 years.
Nationally, according to a Forsa poll published in Stern, the German political situation as of April 6 looked like this:
In Germany, political coalitions are formed after election results are in, not before as in a two party, first past the post system such as exists in the US. That Forsa poll translated for US viewers comes out something like this:
Which means if an election were held today and voters voted the way that Forsa poll suggests, Chancellor Merkel would be thrown out and Germany would have its first Green Party Chancellor.
Those nukes look as good as dead.
But are they? There won't be an election any time soon. "No one in the [CDU/FDP] coalition wants an early election". See this FT.com analysis And Merkel doesn't have to hold an election until 2013.
The chair of Merkel's CDU party business council, Kurt Lauk, says Germans do not understand what phasing the reactors out will cost: “Politicians – especially the Greens – are lying about the costs,” he says. “But the CDU has not got it across either.”
Many issues associated with nuclear power are also not understood. For instance, George Monbiot, columnist for The Guardian, who understands climate change (see his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning) and who once was anti nuclear is reexamining his beliefs. Eg: "The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong. We have done other people and ourselves a terrible disservice".
Monbiot had just finished debating Caldicott: he'd never seriously examined what she was saying before.
It doesn't help that the nuclear/climate debate resembles the situation in that Biblical story where everyone found they couldn't understand each other after attempting to build the Tower of Babel too high.
Prominent pro nuclear advocates who deny climate science applauded when cap and trade went down even though that meant low carbon nuclear would take the hit. Prominent climate activists cheer at the prospect of reactors shutting down, even though nukes provide 70% of the low carbon electricity available in the US.
One of the most prominent paid nuclear industry lobbyists in the US is a climate science denier. He'll tell you the Royal Society doesn't know what science is. There is a prominent pro nuclear climate scientist who promotes the views of those who deny the findings of the National Academy of Sciences on radiation, i.e. people who call NAS scientists corrupt, who will tell you by the way the NAS should be respected, because it knows what it is talking about on climate. Its getting so a climate or nuclear activist can't tell which scientist to trust on a given day on a specific issue without making a call to the respective party headquarters.
Anti nukes have somehow convinced a lot of people that nuclear power is more expensive to produce than solar power. I've just put down a book, Climate Change Denial, written by a climate scientist who has been specializing in explaining how lies and flawed logic underpin almost all arguments used by climate science deniers, who did not notice that his own anti nuke arguments were of the same type. It is an article of anti-nuke faith that there is no place to put nuclear waste, even though WIPP exists. And there are the hard core, stupefying anti nukes, like Caldicott. She has seized on Fukushima and is out there shouting from the rooftops that "Japan may become uninhabitable forever". That's Japan. The whole place. Uninhabitable forever. TEC periodically hosts her views.
Its a madhouse out there.
The German decision to aim for the second time to phase out their nukes by 2022 is a product of the high tide of anti nuclear sentiment produced by Fukushima. Those 250,000 people were out on the street March 26. The election that produced the first Green Party Premier was held the same day. As the bills come in for the infrastructure Germany will have to build to achieve their ambitious low carbon no nukes high economic growth goals, the lying about what things cost will be more difficult to do. As hysteria over Fukushima recedes and the dust settles enough for it to become apparent what exactly happened, unfounded concern over nuclear should decline as well.
This football looks set to be kicked around some more.
P.S. Although some are reporting as if Germany is the first nation to announce a complete nuclear phaseout, even though this is the second time around just for Germany, there is also the example of Sweden. After Three Mile Island the Swedish government passed legislation requiring a phaseout of all nuclear power in Sweden by 2011. As awareness of climate change dawned, the difficulties of creating a low carbon economy that can grow without using nuclear power caused opposition in Sweden to diminish to the point the new policy is to allow more reactors to be built.
Somehow, the NY Times managed to report on this recent German decision without mentioning either the earlier German commitment to end the use of nuclear power in Germany, or the attempt in Sweden. The NYT is covering the fact that Germans are irrational on nukes: " 'Just as creationists attempt to ban the theory of evolution from the school books', said a physicist, Peter Heller, in a Web posting that challenged the national nuclear orthodoxy, 'it almost seems as if every factual and neutral explanation in Germany is now in the process of being deleted' from the nuclear debate". The NYT's own irrationality is harder for them to face.
Authors note: When the British Columbia Green Party had three Speakers instead of a leader, I was elected by the party to be a Speaker of the BC Green Party. This was in 1990. One of the founders of Greenpeace told me I was the most powerful voice to that point the Greens had had in Canada.
Front image by q83.
David Lewis: I made pottery in rural Canada for a number of years starting in the early 1970s. When scientists confirmed what the Antarctic ozone hole was in 1987 I felt a call to understand what was happening to the atmosphere. I was a delegate to the Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference of 1988. I told the scientists I met there that I was an artist, but I could read their journals, ...
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