As nat gas prices surge in Europe, Germany is kicking off the new year by moving ahead with plans to shutter three of its six remaining nuclear power plants, making good on a commitment made in the aftermath of Japan's disastrous meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The decision was championed especially vigorously by the Greens, who are now helping to rule as part of Germany's new "stop sign" ruling coalition. But soaring natural gas prices across Europe mean this concession to the environmental lobby couldn't come at a worse time.
It's a decision that could have consequences for the US. As we have complained before, the AOC-backed "Green New Deal" mostly excluded nuclear, by far the most efficient and useful alternative to fossil fuels, instead choosing to rely solely on inadequate "renewables". And as Reuters adds in its report, Germany's decision to pull the plug represents an "irreversible" pivot away from an energy source deemed "clean and cheap by some."
Here's more from Reuters:
Germany has pulled the plug on three of its last six nuclear power stations as it moves towards completing its withdrawal from nuclear power as it turns its focus to renewables.
The government decided to speed up the phasing out of nuclear power following Japan's Fukushima reactor meltdown in 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the coastal plant in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The reactors of Brokdorf, Grohnde, and Gundremmingen C, run by utilities E.ON and RWE shut down late on Friday after three and half decades in operation.
The campaign to shut down nuclear power in Europe's biggest economy isn't finished yet: Germany's last three nuclear power plants - Isar 2, Emsland, and Neckarwestheim II - are set to be turned off by the end of 2022.
Preussen Elektra, the company that runs the Brokdorf and Grohnde plants, said in a statement on Saturday that its two plants had been shut down shortly before midnight on Friday. Meanwhile, RWE said the Gundremmingen C plant had also stopped generating power on Friday evening. PreussenElektra CEO Guido Knott thanked his staff for their commitment to safety: "We have made a decisive contribution to the secure, climate-friendly and reliable supply of electricity in Germany for decades." They certainly avoided any major meltdowns during the plant's lifetime of active use. Related: Iran Plays Hardball In Drive To Export Crude Oil
Just last week, Julianne Geiger from OilPrice.com wrote that Germany’s latest push to "greenify" its grid at the expense of nuclear power couldn't be happening at a worse time. And instead of changing its energy policy to adapt to the times, Germany is stubbornly refusing to yield, and making decisions it can't easily undo.
Now, the country is losing a reliable power source just as the German baseload power for 2022 delivery - a European benchmark - hit a brand new contract high of €278.50. This is an increase of 10% as gas flowing through a pipeline connecting Russia to Germany switched direction to flow Eastward instead.
And in an editorial published on New Year's Day, no less an authority than the Washington Post editorial board opined that Germany was making a tremendous mistake, something that would place its people further in hock to the Russians.
As WaPo noted, France is going in the opposite direction, choosing to build more nuclear power plants. And there's a reason for that: trying to wean an economy off coal and fossil fuels wouldn't just be impossible, it could be "perilous" without a contribution from the ever-reliable nuclear sector.
Absent nuclear, Germany also depends more on Russian natural gas, a deep geopolitical vulnerability that gives leverage to Russia’s authoritarian government.
True, the German government has committed to phasing out coal — but not until 2038. Even on this long time frame, eliminating coal without help from nuclear power plants will be perilous for Europe’s largest economy. Analysts warn that Germany’s supply margin — how much electrical generation capacity the country has in reserve — could plummet in the next couple of years, risking blackouts in times of grid stress.
Next door, French President Emmanuel Macron is moving in the opposite direction, announcing plans for new nuclear reactors. France relies more on nuclear power than any other nation, a major reason the country has about half the per capita greenhouse emissions Germany does. Mr. Macron rightly sees expanding the nation’s nuclear capacity as a better alternative than attempting to rely on renewables alone. Solar and wind power will be essential pieces of a cleaner energy mix, but the grid will still require reliable, always-on sources of electricity to back up intermittent renewables. Better it be nuclear than coal, oil or gas.
It appears, following The Netherlands' recent surprise flip-flop decision, that nuclear power might be Europe's only answer to the looming dependence on Russian gas. The question is, is it too late - or too politically untenable - for Germany to un-flick the switch?
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France sees expanding nuclear capacity as a better alternative than attempting to rely on renewables alone. Solar and wind power will be essential pieces of a cleaner energy mix but the grid will still require reliable sources of electricity to back up the intermittent renewables.
By phasing out its nuclear power plants, Germany is losing a reliable power source and also increasing meanwhile its use of coal-generated electricity as well as intensifying its already heavy dependence on Russian gas supplies.
And to make things worse for itself, Germany is dragging its feet about certifying Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which will keep it and the EU adequately supplied with gas and help alleviate the energy crisis embroiling them.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London