True costs of Germany’s nuclear shutdown

Germany is experiencing one failure after another all because of political pressure from environmental groups, as well as the political Green Party itself. As Germany is implementing a conversion from nuclear to renewable wind and solar, it has become apparent that both projects are failing their original objectives. Coming to America, soon!

Problem one: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to rapidly phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors has left the government and utilities with a massive problem: How to clean up and store large amounts of nuclear waste and other radioactive material. This is turning out to be a major cost.

Problem two: The proposed replacement for phasing out nuclear was to replace it with wind in the northern part of the country along the coastline and solar panels on every structure throughout the country. So far, most of the replacement electricity is coming from the purchase of France’s clean nuclear powered sources and the building of new coal fired generation plants, which are cleaner than the old coal plants but still produces CO2 emissions. This too is turning out to be a major cost.

Problem Three: Elections are forthcoming. The country has struggled to meet its pollution-reduction targets. Germany committed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent in 2020 compared to 1990 levels but had managed just a 27 percent reduction at the end of last year. The commitment of 95% by 2050 is now the paradox facing Merkel, who’ll campaign for a fourth term in 2017. This is also turning out to be a major cost.

If you were to look closely at Germany’s energy policy and its problems, you will see the making of the same energy issues here in America, except NG would replace coal. The US has just shut down five nuclear power plants and replaced the electricity generation with natural gas, not wind and solar. Each of those plants has to store high-level nuclear waste (fuel) on site until the US can develop a workable solution.

Germany still hasn’t figured out what to do with their high-level waste — mostly spent fuel rods — that are now in interim (100 years) canisters located in a dozen specialized warehouses near existing nuclear power plants. Any future waste repository will have to contain the spent uranium fuel for up to a million years, unless they change policy and implement next generation reactors to consume it.

In Germany, a government commission on highly radioactive nuclear waste spent the last two years working on a 700-page report which was supposed to recommend a storage location. Instead, the report estimated that Germany’s final storage facility would be ready “in the next century.” Costs are expected to be astronomical. In reality, that means they don’t have a solution to store or consume the waste as fuel.

China is leading the world with its investment in implementing the molten salt reactor (MSR) technology. I can not leave out Canada, which will probably have the first commercial MSR. There are many other companies/countries that are committed to MSR technology and the elimination of the high level waste material created by the early generation reactors over the last 60 years.

Germany has an additional problem with low-level waste storage and management. Most of the material originated from 14 nuclear power plants from 1967 until 1978 was stored in an underground facility that now has a serious water seepage problem. All the material stored there has to be removed and restored. A 2015 report by Germany’s Environment Ministry noted, “There are currently no technical plans available for the envisioned waste recovery project which would allow a reliable estimate of the costs.”

“Nuclear in Germany is not popular,” said Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transportation, and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research. “Everybody knows it is dangerous and causes a lot of environmental difficulties. Nuclear [is being] replaced by renewables – we have no need for nuclear power any more.” It is that consensus that has created an enormous technical and costly problem. Hindsight is always 20/20 and Germany is now seeing the results of their hasty planning or lack of.

On the other front; renewable generated replacement electricity has not materialize as expected either. While the wind and solar already implemented has the capacity, actual production has fallen far short and is very expensive. New coal plants are being built to augment renewable (now called clean) energy. Germany has plenty of coal and I would have to say, the concept of shutting down nuclear without increasing fossil fuels may not be possible. Germany is still fossilized and this is the true face of their ‘energiewende’.


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