The carbon cost of Germany’s nuclear ‘Nein danke!’

We’ve mentioned Andrea Merkel’s idiotic decision to abandon nuclear power a couple of times on this blog recently (namely here and here). At the time, I said it was a kneejerk reaction – one that hadn’t been properly through (save for trying to keep the green lobby happy). Well, things seem to be going from bad to worse, as David Strahan states in the New Scientist.

Last year the government, headed by Angela Merkel, made the sensible but unpopular decision to extend the life of Germany’s nuclear plants to 2036 as a “bridge technology” towards “the age of renewable energy”. But after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, public hostility intensified and Merkel retreated. The U-turn may help her in the 2013 federal elections but it is a major reversal for the climate.

Germany, (a country which, lest we forget, is a world leader in solar and wind power) now needs to get its energy from somewhere and even with its ambitious plans to produce 35% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, that simply isn’t enough – even for this world leader.
So, what do they do?

How will Germany fill that hole? With coal and other fossil fuels. It has plans to build 20 gigawatts of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020, including 9 gigawatts of coal by 2013. The government now describes fossil-fuel power stations – apparently without irony – as “the new bridging technology”. Some of this may never be fitted with carbon capture and storage because German environmental campaigners don’t like this technology either.


Trevor Sikorski, head of environmental market research at London investment bank Barclays Capital, calculates that Germany will emit an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That is more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined under the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS).

So much for the EU’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 335 million tonnes by 2020. That’s now been almost completely negated by Germany turning its back on nuclear energy. And with the fossil fuelled power comes other air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals.

South African anti-nuclear campaigners (with their dramatic websites) would do well to take note. Their demands for using “renewable” sources to generate electricity might be well-meaning, but are hopelessly inadequate. When a first-world, developed country with a reputation for green technology and engineering can’t support itself with wind and solar and has to turn to dirty coal and oil (albeit because of a silly decision), realistically, what hope does SA have?

Germany’s electricity now comes from er… nuclear and coal


After Angela Merkel’s short-sighted and silly plan of closing down Germany’s atomic power stations in a desperate attempt to prevent any more nuclear electoral disasters, it quickly appeared that Germany would run short of electricity. No matter, said Merkel – we’ll import our power from France while we decide what to do.

That’s France, which has 58 nuclear power stations and which produces almost 80% of its electricity using nuclear power.

Well, it seems that Merkel has flip-flopped her way to another momentous decision: her Government is going to encourage the construction of new coal and gas power plants using millions of Euros from a fund for… er… promoting clean energy and combating climate change.

Remember what risk perception expert David Ropeik told us about this?

We can fear too much (vaccines), or too little (particulate pollution from coal-burning power plants), despite the available evidence, and our perceptions can create risks all by themselves. Excessive fear of vaccines is allowing diseases that had almost been eradicated to spread once more. Conversely, inadequate concern about coal-burning power stations has meant coal has been favoured over “scarier” nuclear power, risking sickness and death for thousands of people from particulate air pollution. Fukushima is now playing a powerful part in this retreat from nuclear power.

Clear evidence, if any were needed, that for Merkel it was never really not about the issue of safe or green electricity production, it was only ever about the issue of trying to be popular with the electorate.

I think she’s messed that bit up now too.