A Bridge Technology to Where?

President of the Federal Republic Germany, Christian Wulff, signed the bill about (inter alia) prolonging the exploitation time of German nuclear power stations by on average 12 years. Other regulations involved in the bill (it actually is a comprehensive “energy concept” of the CDU-FDP coalition government) are less problematic. But the “bridge technology” that nuclear power is according to the government is a problem. One that makes the whole concept worthless.

A bridge technology to where is it meant to be, one may ask. And that is a good question. The German government is claiming that the country needs nuclear power as a bridge from the fossil fuel to the “green” energy generation system, based on renewables. But does it really? I already once posted an answer to a related question here but I would like to give a brief overview one more time.

Here are the reasons why nuclear power is not the bridge technology we need:

  1. There actually is no need for such a massive “bridge”. The often claimed argument that Germany cannot abandon nuclear power and fossil fuels in energy generation at the same time without risking a gap between demand and supply for energy, is flawed. Of course, no one asks for switching off all fossil fuel and nuclear power plants at the same time. And since Germany is a net exporter of electricity and its renewables sector is expanding at an extremely fast pace, there shouldn’t be problems. Yes, we should overcome the dilemma of the “rebounce effect” (an empirical phenomenon that efficiency gains in energy sector don’t lead to less consumption) not to let problems arise. But we finally have to learn to deal with the fact that there are no infinite resources anyway. And there are a lot of areas where we can save energy.
  2. For the time being, there is no single launched final storage site in the world for the highly radioactive waste produced through nuclear power generation – even though the first nuclear power plants were launched in the 50-ies. Admittedly, there are two sites agreed on, in Sweden and in Finland – but both are still controversial and shall be launched as late as in 2020. Thus: we already have a lot of waste, still without a possibility to storage it – even so the German government want to produce even more of it.
  3. Uranium mining: whether a uranium peak is arriving or already passed, is a highly controversial issue, so I won’t discuss it here. But the fact is that uranium mining causes high environmental damages – and that even in countries like Australia, where there are comparatively high legal standards and modern technology. But much of the uranium we use in our European power plants is mined in Africa and Asia – and there the standards aren’t even comparable.
  4. Nuclear power remains in conflict with renewables. While generation and transmission of energy from renewable sources must be flexible and decentralized, nuclear power stations are quite the contrary – it is very costly to restrict their energy production, and they produce vast amounts of energy each, thus being the antipode of decentralization.
  5. There is the possibility of a GAU, a big nuclear accident – it doesn’t really matter, whether the cause should be technical failure or a terrorist attack. Even if the likeliness of such an accident is minimal – should it occur, we would have a very, very big problem.
  6. It is often claimed that nuclear electricity is cheap. Yes, it is, but to a high extent because of vast indirect subsidies by the State, without which the development of those power stations would have paid off.
  7. In Germany there is another problem: all nuclear power stations are properties of the so called “Big Four”, the four big energy corporations EnBW, RWE, E.on and Vattenfall. Thus, the prolonging of the running times would benefit only these corporations, even enlarging their market power, which already is huge.

In short: Mr Wulff, you made a big mistake. Hopefully the constitutional court will undo the bill, since the way it was passed is legally controversial and will be challenged by opposition parties.

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