15 June 2011 by Pelle Neroth
The industrial engine of the continent has used nuclear energy for a quarter of its electricity production. Now that alternative supplies have to be found, prices throughout Europe are predicted to rise - one energy expert predicts costs will double - and dependence on Russian gas is expected to increase. The oligarchs of Moscow will be rubbing their hands, press commentators critical of the German decision both in Germany and abroad have predicted.
German chancellor Angela Merkel's decision represents a 180 degree reversal of her pro nuclear original position last year. Back then, she drew up plans to extend the lifespan of 17 ageing reactors. But between then and now, of course, the disaster at Fukushima occurred. And the government has responded to the public outcry. Nowhere did the pictures of the burning Japanese plants have greater impact than in this most nuclear sceptic of countries.
In one survey of German opinion, 60 percent of Germans want nuclear power abolished even if it means a reduction in their quality of life. Thirty percent want an immediate stop to the country's nuclear plants. Another thirty percent want a drawdown within five years. In the event, the government will be proceeding a little bit slower than that - tthe phase out will be complete by 2022. The
German minister for the environment Norbert Röttgen said "the decision is final. The last three reactors will close by 2022. There will be no get out clauses or exceptions."
To compensate for the shortfall, Germany plans a massive expansion of renewables. Four thousand kilometres of cable will have to laid to transport energy from the Baltic, where the wind resources are, and will be further developed, to southern Germany, where most nuclear plants are situated.
Details are sketchy but new laws are set to severely restrict the rights of landowners to refuse windpower development on their land. The ambitious aim is to get renewables to be responsible for 80 percent of German electricity production by 2050. Coal fired powered stations, responsible for 44% of German production, will then also have been shut down.
The decision has been criticised by German industry. Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche has said the government has acrted too irrationally after Fukushima, while the head of the German Industry federation has warned that "winding down nuclear power in this way without a plan B is suicidal for an industrial power like Germany."
That said, German industry is less electricity intensive than manufacturing in other countries. For instance, Scandinavian per capita electricity consumption is almost twice as high as Germany's. The reason is that it requires very little electricity to build a car, Germany's primary industry. Much more energy to create a tonne of steel. And few Germans heat their homes with electricity, unlike their northern neighbours.
Renewable energy company shares rose after the decision. So did those of the natural gas giants like BASF and Russia's Gazprom. Since the energy markets are pan European these days, energy experts are expecting a hike in prices as EU industry and consumers fight for a smaller available output of energy. at least until alternatives to the closed plants come onstream.
New natural gas fired power stations might eventually make up some of the shortfall, before renewables arrive, and in that case Germany's carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise, since nuclear power does not emit carbon and natural gas does.
That could jeopardise the 2020 EU goal of reducing CO2 emissions. Also, as the gas will most likely have to be imported from Russia, that country will have been handed a powerful energy supply political hold over Europe. Germany has set itself the big goal of becoming a renewables based economy. The decsion to force the issue by abolishing nuclear is brave or foolhardy, depending on where you stand on nuclear power.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 15 June 2011 11:05 AM Energy
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