August 09, 2008
Will Germany Stop Nuclear Power Phase Out?
Der Spiegel examines the question of whether Germany should go through with plans to phase out nuclear power.
Put a monkey in front of a keyboard, and he might come up with something like this: Biblis A, Neckar-Westheim 1, BrunsbŁttel, Biblis B, Isar 1, Unterweser, Philippsburg 1. The names, though, are far from meaningless. All of them are nuclear power plants in Germany -- seven of the 17 still in operation in the country. And all seven of them are scheduled to be shut down between 2010 and 2012 and taken off the electricity grid.
If Germany phases out its nuclear power plants (which currently supply over a quarter of Germany electric power) it will face electric power shortages.
The reason for the planned shut downs is clear -- they are part of the country's legislated shift away from atomic energy. But just what that means for Germany's energy supply only becomes apparent after looking at a small graphic that Stephan Kohler, chief executive of the Germany Energy Agency, keeps in a plastic folder in his office. The graphic estimates trends in both consumption and production of electricity in Germany's near future. Whereas the consumption line gently and consistently falls, the production line climbs slightly for the next couple of years -- and then it plunges. The edge of the cliff depicted in the diagram coincides with 2010, just when the 126,036 gigawatt hours of electricity produced by Biblis, Neckar-Westheim and BrunsbŁttel disappear.
Germany has 17 out of Europe's 130 nuclear power plants. Britain has 19 and France has 59. If Germany goes through with its nuclear power phase-out it will inevitably buy more electric power from French nuclear plants and also build more coal fired electric power generating plants. Germany's plan to phase out nuclear power is not doing either Germany or the world any favors. But the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is showing signs of backpedaling on the nuclear power phase-out.
"The chancellor has noticed that the discussion about the use of atomic energy has been re-energized" said Merkel spokesman Thomas Steg recently. Her party is willing to go even further. "For the foreseeable future," party leadership recently wrote in a policy paper on global warming, "the contribution of nuclear energy to the production of electricity in Germany is irreplaceable."
The world has 439 nuclear power plants in operation, 36 under construction, and 81 planned. While Russia, India, and China each have 6 nuclear power plants under construction Russia's 6 make a much higher ratio of power plants under construction to people and so Russia's commitment to nuclear power is much bigger.
German electric power providers plan to build 26 new coal fired electric power plants. Germany has 3 choices: A) Raise prices to cut back on demand; or B) Build more coal plants, or C) reverse the decision to phase out the nuclear power plants. While the majority of Germans still favor the nuclear phase out the majority has shrunk considerably in just 8 months. The plans for coal plants suggest that there's no stomach left for raising already high electric power costs. Germany already has electric power costs more than double the US costs.
In absolute values, household electricity prices were highest in January 2006 in Denmark (23.62 euro per 100 kWh), followed by Italy (21.08), the Netherlands (20.87) and Germany (18.32). The lowest prices were observed in Greece (7.01), Lithuania (7.18), Estonia (7.31) and Latvia (8.29).
At the time of this writing the exchange rate is about 1.5 Euro per US dollar. Even if it reached parity of 1 to 1 the cost for electricity would be $0.1832 per kwh which is almost double the 2008 US average rate of $0.1031 per kwh. Shutting down the nuclear power plants will drive it higher still. My guess is that the German government will eventually reverse their decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany.
The anti-nuclear crowd are planet killers. Coal fired plants not only burn over 100 million tons of coal a year, the worst aspect of coal combustion for electrical generation is probably not the CO2 content but the heavy metals the coal contains. So the Germans, for emotionally driven and fear based irrational reasons are going to build more coal fired plants! I've spoken with fairly intelligent germans and they all spout the party line about waste. Who the hell cares about nuclear waste??? It is a potent fuel source for several Generation V reactors. We will probably run out of it in a few decades and wish we had more! Right now there is a fuel design coming to market (Thorium Power's Radkowsky seed and blanket design) that requires the plutonium from spent fuel rods and incinerates 2/3rds of it each cycle. The fission products that are left have half lives of severl hundred years. Liquid Fluoride Thorium reactors can be used as nuclear waste garbage displosals. Waste reprocessing plants could have a couple running providing industrial heat and electricity while being feed Np, Am, and Cm. So what is the German solution? Finding a solution to an essentially technical problem? No, it is spewing 18X 30,000 pounds of mercury per year into the sky to land in the ocean to be returned in the form of canned tuna.
Here is an astounding article about the uranium content of the coal that we burn. Although there is obviously a low concentration of uranium in coal, we are still burning so much coal every year in the world, that the amount of fissile uranium isotope per year that is released (into the air that we breathe) from the coal fired plants in the United States, is far more than the amount of uranium we burn every year in the nearly 100 reactors that we have:
In other words, it is calculated that if we capture and burn the fissile uranium released in the air by the coal fired power plants by using the nuclear plants that exist in the United States, then we won't have to purchase new uranium fuel for the reactors.
But the MAIN point is that the thousands of lung cancer deaths every year due to this coal uranium released in the air, would be worse than Chernobyl disaster, although it is reported. Let's bring the coal fired plants to the attention of anti-nuclear gruppen.
Yeah, I'll pile on here as well, this is lunacy, and unfortunately this is the road that we appear likely to go down in the US. We're not as hostage to our Green Party here in the US, but the majority political party has them as a key constituent and are basically playing the same game Merkel is.
I forsee higher and higher electricity prices in the US as a renewables-only policy is rolled out, and as nuclear expansion is stiff-armed out of ill-founded concerns. For a while it might work; we have a lot of room to expand renewables, much better solar resources, and at least over here no one's seriously talking about shutting down the nukes we already have. Plus we're more likely to turn to natural gas than to coal once reality's staring us in the face.
It appears that the Germans have a choice to make. They can either continue with their plans to shut down their nuclear power stations or they can continue with the global warming shtick. However, they cannot do both. It will be entertaining to see which choice they end up making.
Hmm, noone mentioned that E.On, the German electricity giant (e.g., they sell electricity to the UK) has stated that they have to build more coal plants to cover their wind-farm operations: seems wind isn't all that available/reliable, and the technology to store overage power when the wind IS blowing is probably a number of years from being useable outside the laboratory.
Coal with its mercury and other polluting aspects ve nuclear. Clearly, being Green kills people. How ironic.
This is the problem when ideology and feel good politics trumps science.
Someone should remind the East Germans (like Angela Merkel) that they (by and large) didn't like living under Russian rule. Dependence on Russia for energy will not be quite the same thing, but unpleasant all the same.