Germany's Blunder?

By Keith Kloor | June 1, 2011 10:27 am

So it’s official: Germany is banning nuclear power. Those who applaud this decision are obviously taking the long-term view–they see a clean energy age on the horizon.

But in the short term, let’s be clear-eyed about the tradeoffs. For starters, their are potentially huge climate consequences. I’m curious to hear what climate policy wonks and activists think of this.

Secondly, there are geopolitical implications, which has Russia smiling today.

The law of unintended consequences might also turn out to be ironic, according to this analysis:

Eleven years to replace an energy source that provides nearly a quarter of its electricity is no small feat. It’s particularly difficult for Germany because it must adhere to European CO2 emissions caps. Meaning Germany has to find a low-carbon source of energy.

In the short term, Germany, most likely will import nuclear power from France and the Czech Republic. This will place pressure on the existing nuclear power supply and drive up costs as a result. Consumers will feel the pinch. For big industrial companies, it will feel more like a punch.

Has Germany blundered? Or made a bold decision that will eventually pay off for the environment?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, nuclear power
  • Ed Forbes

    It is a great idea as far as the US is concerned.

    It will go a long way to improving the US balance of trade with Europe when they make their goods more expensive. It will also make a good poster child for when, not if, their power grid implodes.

     I do not expect to see this actually happen though. As industry will see that they are being run off a cliff, Germany will make “modest” changes to the plan.

  • Sashka

    Agree with Ed.

  • Keith Kloor

    I agree with Ed, too–that Germany will be forced to modify its plan, thus delaying or canceling the nuclear shutdown.

    But I think it will owe more to the stark energy calculus than industry pressure. I just don’t see the plan as tenable, once the monumental size of the challenge sets in.

  • Pascvaks

    When you set out to ‘replace’ something, you must already have something else as your something ‘replacement’.  When you don’t have something else, you are making a ‘political’ statement for some reason that the World has yet to fathom.

    There must be something in the water!  People just aren’t normally as stupid as they have been in the past 22 years.  “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles…”???  Yeah richtig!  In a pig’s eye!

  • Howard

    I am very encouraged by Germany’s desire to decarbonize without nuke power.  Since they are famous for advancing science and engineering, this can only be a positive benefit for people everywhere.  A small, insignificant country that is an industrial powerhouse, Germany will be a hot-house of new low carbon power sources.

    I can’t think of a better use of the overwhelming German energy and tinkering capability.  No matter what you think about global warming, it is exciting that such a creative society is taking on such a monumental technical challenge.

    I wish them well because we will all benefit from the successes and failures that will fall out of this project.

  • Michael Tobis

    It’s a disaster regardless of the outcome. Germany joins the US and Canada in not just back-burnering the climate issue but trying to ignore it altogether. Regardless of whether they follow through on this foolishness it will not make a realistic path any easier.

    Please forgive my bad humor of late. I am feeling a bit under the climate.

  • jeffn

    I can’t see this as a disaster. Sometimes you have to threaten to give people what they want in order to move on. The argument for decades from the greens is that industrial powers can get rid of fossil fuels and switch to renewables  quickly, cheaply and effectively without nuclear power. Most of us never believed that, this is the green’s opportunity to put up or shut up. We all win either way. My guess is that the first couple of commenters are right- the plan will be obviously wrong and Germany will have to modify it. Folks like Romm in the US will then have a very difficult time trying to argue that we need to do the plan here.

  • Michael Tobis

    Whether renewables can replace fossil fuels or not, they will have a much harder job of it if replacing existing non-carbon-emitting energy is put as a higher priority. That idea is as crazy and out of touch as doing nothing at all.

  • RickA

    Germany is doing the wrong thing.

    The world needs to ramp up Nuclear to 50% of total energy production, not cut back.

    We don’t really have any reliable carbon free energy production except hydro and nuclear.

    Every river that can be dammed is producing power – so nuclear is the only game in town.

    Solar and wind just aren’t baseload power sources.

    The solution is to make Nuclear safer, not abandon it.

    I think Germany made the wrong decision.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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